The Lantau Island Paddle Project: 2 Teachers, The Open Sea And A Whole Lot of Plastic Trash

Wading through grimy, oily beach water filled with trash, debris and several dead sea life over the north beach of Discovery Bay’s presumed picturesque resort development, Jonny Haines was completely devastated while paddle boarding around the coves in the area he calls home. Taking a GoPro to film one of his excursions last summer, his short four-minute video is heartbreaking: a lonesome jellyfish swimming next to an old shoe, a television set washed up on the shores, tons of rotting, noxious trash floating seemingly everywhere, dead fish who never stood a chance to thrive in our sea waters. It was enough to compel him to do something about it.

Wake Up Hong Kong

Teaming up with fellow colleague Tim Tait (both of them are teachers at Discovery Bay International School) the two decided to take action with one specific challenge: to paddle board a full 75-kilometer distance around Lantau Island over five consecutive days from February 2 – 6 2018 in an effort to raise funds and awareness for local NGO, Plastic Free Seas. Training since last September with a goal of raising $100,000 HKD solely for charity, the boys – having just wrapped up their challenge – spoke exclusively with Green Queen about the hurdles they faced in their five-day stint and what’s up next for this dynamic duo.

If you take a glimpse at The Lantau Island Paddle social media and a scroll through their Facebook Live videos, you’ll note Jonny and Tim had to brave a slew of obstacles: from the strong, high February winds to sweeping currents and tides. Throw in miles of unknown coastline and the overall exhaustion of doing this challenge in the coldest Hong Kong winter in almost 60 years, watching some of the footage was a bit distressing. “My hardest day was definitely Day One,” noted New Zealand-native Tait. “There were headwinds coming from the side, which meant I was working overtime on my balance. I hadn’t hydrated well and started to cramp up, which is not ideal while trying to paddle board.” Haines, on the other hand, experienced hardships all through Day Three. “We turned the corner at the tip of Fan Lau, Southern Lantau, and the wind stopped me in our tracks,” explained the six-year DB resident. “The way the wind thundered over Lantau, plus the northerly winds that swept toward us down the coast left us fighting on so many fronts. It left us unstable on our boards and whipped up the seas in such an unpredictable way. Without the dolphin sighing to lighten the day, I could’ve easily caved, but you quickly remember why we were doing this challenge.”

Spending a cumulative total of 26+ hours on the water, paddling 98.9 kilometers along the coast of Lantau Island, Jonny and Tim had a firsthand look at the sheer volume of trash floating on our ocean. “One thing that stood out was the all the plastic we saw – it’s not just polystyrene, straws, or bottles – it’s a huge range of plastics which just do not break down,” said Tait. “It’s not people littering that is causing the major problems, it’s rubbish that was likely sent to landfills.” Logging over 100 (!) coastal trash locations, footages of bleak, piling garbage waste can be seen on the shorelines through multiple video clips. 16 water samples were taken at various points of their campaign to analyze and test.

As educators, Tait and Haines used this challenge as an opportunity to teach their students about the alarming levels of plastic waste in their backyard bay. Prompting discussions and research topics like the habitats being damaged, coast line footage of litter on their beaches and how the tides and currents impact the litter deposits, the supportive Discovery Bay community, children and parents have rallied around the paddlers to push their plastic eco message further afield.

Wave of Change #thatscoolhk

Having surpassed their fundraising goal, the pair plan to use all the proceeds to develop and establish an education platform that teachers all over the city can use to help raise awareness amongst their students. Topics will include learning about habitats, sustainable development from airport expansion, incinerators, the Zhuhai/Macau bridge, marine life and pollution. Up next for The Lantau Island Paddle? To continue engaging the public by bringing students to the forefront, leading the way forward to drive the change! “By supporting Plastic Free Seas in developing their educational programs, we hope they can help inspire other students, adults and businesses to change their ways and jump onboard this movement to ridding our oceans of plastic pollution,” states Tait. By coming up with hashags, #thatsnotcoolhk and #thatscoolhk, both Haines and Tait are empowering students to recognize the unnecessary (and not cool) use of plastic. “We want to keep momentum up!” said Haines. “The future is exciting, and hopefully this spurs a wave of change.” I encourage you to watch the highlight reel of their awe-inspiring five-day challenge.

To find out more about The Lantau Island Paddle, click here. To learn more about Plastic Free Seas, click here

All images courtesy of The Lantau Island Paddle.