A sea of trash washed onto Hong Kong’s shores and into its harbours in July. While ocean watchers called it an “unprecedented amount,” many acted to try to save our waters.

The news went far. Far enough to reach a Japanese environmentalist from Okinawa, who read the news on the CNN’s Japanese website. Calling himself a “son of the universe” who wishes to clean the world’s oceans, Hiromasa Suzuki decided to come to Hong Kong with a net.

Hiromasa Suzuki
Hiromasa Suzuki. Photo: supplied to HKFP.

“What I want to give is bravery and hope. Even if you don’t know what to do, just walk the first step,” Mr. Suzuki said. “If you don’t walk it, you won’t be able to meet the miracle that may happen.”

Somehow, a miracle did happen. Often nicknamed Masa – a Japanese name meaning “military general,” Suzuki called up an army of enthusiastic Hong Kong people just moments after he showed up at the beach. Although he was not fluent in any languages other than his mother tongue, people started to help him put the flowing rubbish into his fishing net.

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HKFP went to the Gold Coast Beach in Tuen Mun on August 11 hoping to get Masa in action cleaning the coast, but it was already clean – no large pieces of trash in the water or on the sand.

But it was not like that just four days ago on a Sunday, before the 31-year-old came.

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“There was a lot of rubbish. I started to clean up myself, but there were so many people on the beach as well, they noticed me and joined me in cleaning up,” he said. “That’s really great, it’s giving people some hope and encouragement.”

“The children of a family, the father, the mother, all of them came to help,” he added.

By the end, Masa said some 20 people came to his aid.

gold coast cleanup
Photo: Hiromasa Suzuki.

Masa said the only way he could communicate with them was by saying “thank you.” He was humble about his efforts cleaning the Gold Coast beach, saying that it was very rewarding.

Asked if the beach was clean because of him, he said: “if it’s really like that, I’ll be very happy. The nature made it happen as well.”

Gold Coast
The cleaned Gold Coast beach. Photo: HKFP.

Gold Coast was the second beach he visited. The first one – Tai Long Wan on Lantau Island – was way worse. As Masa put it, it was “a cemetery for rubbish.”

According to Masa, the most frequently seen type of trash was plastic packaging for food, but he could not tell where they came from by reading the words on the packages.

He said he received some help from Doug Woodring, a local sea conservationist from the Ocean Recovery Alliance, who told him that a lot of the packages were from China. But, Woodring said, some were also from people who threw them away on boats and ships.

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Masa went to six other beaches in Hong Kong to check out the situation with the help of an app called Global Alert, which people use to mark the location of beaches filled with trash.

Asked about his home country, Masa said a lot of PET bottles enter the Sea of Japan from China and Korea.

“Even if you clean it for one day, the next day the rubbish from China or elsewhere is going to come back – it is really a never-ending story,” he said. “It’s a very difficult problem.”

“But it’s not just about Japan. There’s a lot of rubbish floating in the whole world – if we go overseas, let people see a Japanese person starting to clean the ocean, somehow I think it can give people some hope,” he added.

Inner Mongolia Tree planting
Tree planting in Inner Mongolia. Photo: Hiromasa Suzuki.

Masa said in three years of cleaning oceans, he collected around 6.6 tons of rubbish. He always wears a whale’s tooth that he bought in Okinawa – an antique made before such products were banned – saying that it was like having the “king of the ocean” with him.

Funded by donations from supporters, he said he may visit the Amazon or Indonesia, where he can observe the deforestation. His next planned stop will be in Inner Mongolia next month to plant trees.

“I came to Hong Kong really without any plans, but I met a lot of people here… took some action, and an unimaginable future may come,” Masa said.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.