Ghost Nets collected from Hong Kong waters: 100 tonnes
Individual clean-up dives completed: More than 200
group clean ups: More than 100
Polystyrene and marine plastic waste taken directly from the ocean: 80 tonnes, including more than 1,000 plastic bags
At 66 years old, many people wouldn’t blame Harry Chan, for taking a more sedate approach to life. But Harry is a man on a mission. Around twice a month, he dons his wetsuit and dives to the bottom of the seabed in search of ghost nets, which are deadly to marine life and dangerous for swimmers.
Tell us about your love of diving and how you used your passion to fight Hong Kong’s marine waste problems.
I’ve been diving around the world for more than 30 years, but while in my home waters I noticed how many cheap ghost nets were left dumped in the water and tangled on reefs. They posed a safety hazard, so I just started dragging them out of the water so they could be collected by waste services on land. I soon realised that the problem was huge, and the situation wasn’t about to change, so I started going out regularly with friends and eco-groups. It quickly became my passion.
In your opinion, are things changing?
Unfortunately it’s hard to change habits of a lifetime and it’s unlikely that the fishing industry will stop dumping ghost nets – it’s the easiest and most cost effective solution. On the plus side I see more people caring about our environment and offering their time and support, but unless fundamental changes are made to policies change is futile, and our beautiful and extensive coastal system will never be clean.
Why do you spend your savings and free time fighting a war that you know you can’t win?
I just want to contribute back to the place I’ve called home my whole life and inspire the younger generation to take action. If everyone did just a little bit, it would have a massive impact.
What can be done?
In my opinion, it’s all about education and governmental change. Children are now being taught about our waste problems at school and they are the ones educating their parents’ generation. Governmental policies need to change fundamentally before we can expect to see real improvements to our environment. I also share all the work I do on social media and encourage everyone who joins me to do the same to raise the profile of the problems right on their doorstep.
What advice would you give to people who want to give something back?
Don’t be too extreme with anything you do. Find a balance that works.
To follow Harry’s journey, follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/harry.chan.