November 25, 2013

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Each year, up to 73 million sharks are killed for their fins. Most end up in shark fin soup, a delicacy in both Hong Kong and Mainland China.  However, the last few years have seen a sea change in Hong Kong’s attitude toward shark finning—and an event early this month demonstrated how far the island territory has come.

On November 8th, nearly a thousand children, their teachers and ocean community leaders gathered on Repulse Bay Beach on the south side of Hong Kong Island. They were there as the culmination of Kids Ocean Day, an educational program that links students to the ocean environment, and raises awareness of human impact on the ecosystem.

Directed by aerial artist John Quigley, the kids lined up to form a shark with a severed fin, accompanied by the words “Save Me” in Chinese. The children then reattached the fin and dotted the shark’s eye, “rekindling its spirit” to bring the shark back to life.

Timelapse Kids Ocean Day (c) Ocean Recovery Alliance, Spectral Q, Kids Ocean Day Hong Kong

The image was based on original drawings by two Hong Kong school children, who jointly won an art competition that challenged kids with the theme “What Does the Ocean Have to Say?” Last year’s winner featured a Chinese pink dolphin with the word “Protect.” 

“Today the children have spoken out as a group, using art as a way of expressing themselves,” said Doug Woodring, the event organizer and founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance, a Mission Blue Partner. “As a critical connection in the food chain, which regulates the health of the ocean, their image sends a message to all of us that sharks are important for our own well being.”

Areal artist John Quigley agrees, pointing out that the project’s communal nature not only speaks to the public, but also empowers the children participating by demonstrating that they can do big things if they work together. “The group aerial art experience encourages cooperation and gives voice to the aspirations and dreams of the students,” says Quigley. “It’s beautiful to see how these kids inspire others to care for the environment with their creativity.”

Kids Ocean Day originated in 1991 as an annual event from The Malibu Foundation for Environmental Education, based in Los Angeles, but recently the event has gone international. The program also consists of school assemblies focused on ocean health and the danger of plastics, culminating in a beach clean up field trip.

While Hong Kong hasn’t been known for its environmental friendliness (Lonely Planet’s guide actually features a section titled “(Un)sustainable Hong Kong” recently,)  the public and the government have been taking steps to protect its ocean resources. In September,  the government banned shark fin, Bluefin tuna, and black moss from official functions, and instituted a trawling ban at the beginning of this year. Younger Hongkongers generally see shark fin soup as cruel and—as more celebrities come out against the practice—uncool. 

Private interests are also stepping up to make the Pearl of the Orient less damaging to marine life. In addition to Kid’s Ocean Day, Doug Woodring also serves as helmsman for  Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP,) asking businesses to calculate and publish their plastics footprint the same way they do their carbon emissions and water usage. The ultimate goal is to get businesses to reduce their waste with innovative solutions—which could also save businesses millions. PDP held its 2nd Plasticity Forum in Hong Kong in June.

While the Hong Kong SAR is far from a model of sustainable ocean policy, recent reversals give hope that the city can make progress on ocean issues and, given time, even provide an example for the rest of Asia to follow.

Additional News from Hong Kong:

Trawling ban means end of an era for Hong Kong’s fishermen

Hong Kong Bans Shark Fin At Official Functions


Feature Story: Robert Rath, Freelance Writer

Feature Video: Kids Ocean Day, Plastic Disclosure

Feature Photo: (c) Jeff Pantukoff

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