By Steven Chan and Thomas Chan, The Green Earth

Marine light pollution caused by bright fishing lights is a growing concern in Hong Kong. It adversely affects the environment, disrupts coastal residents, harms marine life, and poses risks to navigation. Clear rules and regulations are essential to mitigate this issue and strike a balance between the fishing industry’s requirements and the protection of the marine ecosystem.

The bright fishing lights create an artificial glow that affects coastal residents, causing sleep disturbance and health problems. They also prevent researchers, photographers and astronomers from observing the night sky. The recent Perseid meteor shower, for instance, was obscured by bright fishing lights around Lantau Island.

Cheung Sha, Lantau marine light pollution
Cheung Sha, Lantau Island, is a popular stargazing site, but no meteor could be seen on August 13, 2023 because the blue skyglow caused by fishing lights completely obscured the dark sky. Photo: The Green Earth.

Marine light pollution may confuse animals that rely on natural light for navigation. For instance, green turtles, an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, nesting on Sham Wan Beach, Lamma Island, could be disoriented by artificial light. The misguided hatchlings could die of dehydration with a longer journey to reach the water.

The beach and its adjacent waters in the inlet of the sea have been designated as a Restricted Area under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap. 170) since April 2021, with no entry allowed between April and October every year. Unfortunately, little has been done to restrict the use of fishing lights in nearby waters. Our light pollution reporting platform has received reports of fishing vessels using bright lights in the waters between Lamma Island and Stanley. We are concerned that the unregulated use of bright fishing lights could affect the long-term health of our marine ecosystem.

marine light pollution
St. Stephen’s Beach, overlooking Lamma Island, on July 7, 2023. Photo: The Green Earth.

In addition to disturbing marine life, excessive light may compromise navigational safety by reducing visibility and increasing the risk of collisions and accidents in Hong Kong’s busy waters. Prolonged exposure to intense light can also cause eye problems for fishermen aboard vessels with dazzling fishing lamps. Addressing this issue is crucial for ensuring the safety of all involved in fishing activities.

Establishing clear measures and controls is essential to prevent and mitigate marine light pollution. Standardising lighting equipment on fishing vessels by limiting brightness levels and promoting focused and directed lighting systems can reduce light spill. In addition, it is essential to require the use of appropriate shades on fishing lights to minimise light spill. The implementation of these measures will effectively reduce the impact of light pollution on coastal communities and marine ecosystems.

fishing bright light
The vessels of the three enforcement departments approaching a fishing vessel for inspection in the joint operation. on August 10, 2023. Photo: GovHK.

Under the Merchant Shipping (Local vessels) (General) Regulation (Cap. 548F), offenders only have to pay a lenient penalty of HK$5,000 for using bright lights that can interfere with navigation and air safety. We believe that non-compliance should result in more severe penalties and sanctions that directly affect fishing vessel licences. Linking compliance with lighting standards to the continuation of fishing licences will motivate fishermen to adopt responsible lighting practices.

Proper use of bright light for fishing infographic
Proper use of bright light for fishing infographic. Photo: Screenshot/AFCD.

While banning fishing lights may not be practical, finding a balance between the fishing industry’s needs and environmental conservation is crucial. Collaboration between fishermen, environmental organisations, and government agencies is necessary to develop innovative solutions that protect livelihoods and the marine environment.

Using bright fishing lights in Hong Kong’s waters contributes to marine light pollution, necessitating urgent action. The disturbance to coastal residents, disruption of the marine ecosystem, and compromised navigational safety underline the importance of implementing clear measures and controls. Standardising lighting equipment can achieve a balance that benefits the community, the fishing industry, and the environment.

Steven Chan Wing Kit and Thomas Chan Ting Hin are members of the environmental affairs team at The Green Earth, a local environmental group. They are interested in light pollution, waste management, plastic pollution and the climate crisis. Their works hope to shape better environmental policies in Hong Kong.

Support HKFP  |  Policies & Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report | Apps

HKFP is an impartial platform & does not necessarily share the views of opinion writers or advertisers. HKFP presents a diversity of views & regularly invites figures across the political spectrum to write for us. Press freedom is guaranteed under the Basic Law, security law, Bill of Rights and Chinese constitution. Opinion pieces aim to point out errors or defects in the government, law or policies, or aim to suggest ideas or alterations via legal means without an intention of hatred, discontent or hostility against the authorities or other communities.

Help safeguard press freedom & keep HKFP free for all readers by supporting our team

contribute to hkfp methods
YouTube video

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit.

Success! You're on the list.
support hong kong free press generic

Guest contributors for Hong Kong Free Press.