Round the Island Hong Kong

Round The Island

Hong Kong Island – 78.5km2 big, home to 1.3mm, a city of endless vertical, concrete and glass towers, but also an island of steep hills, dense jungles and exposed seaside cliffs. Explorers Club members Paul Niel and Esther Roling embarked in May 2017 over a period of six days on an expedition to climb continuously the entire coastline of Hong Kong Island (85km) in order to map pollution levels and map trash hotspots along the coast. 

Their mission was do to the circumnaviagion by climbing, scrambling, swimming and jumping, staying as close as possible to the coast – a sport known as coasteering. This allowed unique access to places unreachable by boat and kayak.

It turned into an unexpected adventure: Heavy rain and thunderstorms in the first few days made progress very slow and dangerous.  In Esther’s words: “We were literally clinging to the rock, while lightnings were hitting the sea around us – it was scary. Little did we know that these were the strongest rainstorms Hong Kong had seen in seven years! The next day we got caught by very strong tidal currents threatening to wash us out into the open sea and the very busy Lamma channel, which is the entrance to Hong Kong container port. At that point it was very important to remember our mission – the mapping of pollution around Hong Kong.

The team was doing this by taking water samples along the Hong Kong coastlines, which were analyzed on the spot as well as in the laboratory of the Open University Hong Kong for biochemical water quality parameters.

Physical pollution was located and registered through the App Global Alert provided by partner organisation Ocean Recovery Alliance. “We saw everything, heaps of styrofoam, plastic bottles. We counted 13 fridges, rusty oil drums, boats, TV screens, – whatever garbage one can think of, we probably saw it. In total we uploaded photos of more than 125 trash sites onto the app, which is a very impactful way to share the results of our expedition.

The weather improved a bit as the expedition continued, but the challenges remained- as fatigue started to set in, the couple was climbing more than eleven hours each day, with very basic bivouac spots along the route, injuries from jellyfishes, sea urchins and especially constant chafing from the saltwater caused the expedition to turn into a challenge of true grit.

On the final day saw the starkest contrasts – from the remote cliffs and boulders back into the skyscraper filled coastline of Hong Kong harbour. Challenges of climbing rock cliffs turned into navigating the challenges of steep harbour walls, barbed wire fences and endless concrete paths.

“Very close to the finish then the moment of shock – we were just about climbing down a rockstep when a rope ripped – Paul was about to fall six meters onto rock but by pure miracle he managed to grab an old hemprope, slowing down his fall – his whole hand burnt up in blisters, but that was for sure better than tons of broken bones.”

Paul sums it up“Completing the cycle, after six days and more than 60hours of climbing was a huge relief! It really felt like we accomplished a big mission. In particular as we brought back all this data that had never been collected before. 

The most encouraging and unexpected development are all the volunteers that are now using our data to clean up the sites that we mapped.”

While the adventure – the first circumnavigation of Hong Kong Island by coasteering, a world first and the first flag expedition by the Explorers Club Hong Kong chapter, has been successfully completed, it was only the first step on a longer mission. The team is already working on a project with local NGOs to use the data collected on the Global Alert app to organise a focused Hong Kong coastal clean up.

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