Following back-to-back tropical storms over the past week, Hong Kong’s beaches have been left strewn with debris.

Typhoon Hato was the first T10 storm to hit the city since 2012, leaving flooding and destruction in its wake last Wednesday. Soon after, Severe Tropical Storm Pakhar brought the city another bout of strong winds and heavy showers.

See more: Video: 8 dramatic clips from Typhoon Hato as it swept through Hong Kong

sham wan beach typhoons debris
Sham Wan on Lamma Island, also known as Turtle Beach. Photo: Robert Lockyer/Facebook.

The latest wave of pollution to swamp the city’s beaches comes after a shipping collision on August 3 caused approximately 1,000 tonnes of palm oil to spill into the sea and wash ashore.

Previously, environmentalists and conservationists had warned that high concentrations of the oil may be hazardous to small children or animals upon ingestion.

sham wan beach typhoons debris
Sham Wan. Photo: Robert Lockyer/Facebook.

Local conservationist and Lamma resident Robert Lockyer told HKFP that, while Typhoon Hato had washed marine pollution off the beaches and into the ocean, Tropical Storm Pakhar had pushed the debris back onto the shores.

He said that the typhoons had exacerbated the effects of the earlier palm oil spill.

sham wan beach typhoons debris
Sham Wan, or Turtle, Beach. Photo: Robert Lockyer/Facebook.

“At the moment, every beach is a disaster. We have palm oil, we have old plastic, new plastic, drift nets that were sitting on the bottom of the ocean that have now washed up to the top of the beach. There’s been a lot of polystyrene that’s normally in the bushes, but because of strong winds, have been blown onto the shore,” said Lockyer.

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The white substance is palm oil. Photo: Robert Lockyer/Facebook.

Lockyer said that aside from marine garbage, organic matter such as branches and leaves had also begun to mix with the pollution on the shores, making beaches more difficult to clean.

sham wan beach typhoons debris
Organic matter mixing with the palm oil and marine garbage. Photo: Robert Lockyer/Facebook.

“Leftover palm oil from the spill has also caused the trash on the beach to become oily. In the afternoon, when temperatures drop, pollution that is covered in oil becomes tacky and sticky – plastics and oil have also begun to clump together, sticking together with the sand, making it heavy and harder to move away from the beaches.”

See more: Palm oil shipping collision occurred just 4km from city, says environmentalist as clean-up continues

sham wan beach typhoons debris
Hydrolyzed palm oil, which has melted onto pieces of plastic pollution Photo: Robert Lockyer/Facebook.

Lockyer said that the government had sent cleaners to public beaches, but that that the magnitude of pollution made clean-up efforts difficult.

“Hong Kong’s got over 800 kilometres of coastline, so with two typhoons coming at the same time, it’s not easy,” said Lockyer.

sham wan beach typhoons debris
Sham Wan, or Turtle, Beach. Photo: Robert Lockyer/Facebook.

“More collaboration between environmental groups – Hong Kong has some of the best environmental minds out there – in a disaster like this would be ideal.”

See more: Video: Volunteers brave the heat to battle palm oil slick at Hong Kong’s beaches

YouTube video

Since the weekend, volunteers and local residents have been participating in clean-ups to clear the city’s shores.

Jun Pang is an independent writer and researcher. She has previously worked in NGOs advocating for refugees' and migrants' rights in Asia and Europe.