Hope or Hope preserved destroyed?

On Friday September 9, a big bang was heard over the waters of Cape D’Aguilar. It was a bomb down on the seabed from World War II measured 1.5 meters long and weighed about a tonne, with energy released equivalent to 226 kilograms of TNT.

“The detonation will not affect the coastal reserve and residents around Cape D’Aguilar, but there will be the noise of an explosion”, quoting from the bomb disposal officer of the police force, who was deployed to carry out the operation on the day. 

Judging by the visible water column and a mound of spray in the press photo, perhaps the questions we all need to ask:

Does it really do no harm to the marine life? Or is it a wake-up call for us to step up and protect one of Hong Kong’s beautiful hope spots?

Cape D’Aguilar – our hope of the planet’s blue lungs

Cape D’Aguilar, or Hok Tsui, is the peninsula located south of Shek O. Its coastal trail is a picturesque sanctuary known to many hikers away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Familiar to us are definitely its spectacular coastal rocks – volcanic bombs, granodiorites, porphyritic rhyolites and basaltic dykes – as well as the adventure tour in thunder cave and crab cave, not to mention the iconic whale bone, Miss Willy and the historic lighthouse that is still in service.

But little do we know that this area is one of the marine reserve protected by Hong Kong government and also one of the world’s preserved hope spots designated by Mission Blue, which are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean.

Ocean, like our planet’s blue lung, produces over 50% of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere. It transports heat from the equator to the poles and helps regulates our climate. When we breathe in and out, our chest is also moving up and down with our ocean, in mystical and divine silence.

Now let us imagine what would happen if fishing is unrestricted, and tons and tons of wastes such as plastics, fishing nets and debris are dumped or discarded uncontrolled into the waters, into our planet’s lungs?

It would be as if we get our human lungs exposed to all kinds of toxins and pollutants. Eventually our chest may feel full, heavy and congested. When airways are obscured, our lungs get clogged. We experience shortness of breadth. Our ocean, too.

Why should we care about the ocean? (2021, February 26). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: USA. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/why-care-about-ocean.html#:~:text=The%20air%20we%20breathe%3A%20The,our%20climate%20and%20weather%20patterns.

Marine conservation is a warfare

One way Aquameridian has been successfully working to protect our planet’s blue lung is to raise awareness for marine protection and lobby Hong Kong law makers for the importance of sustainable development of coastal areas by pushing the Hope Spot agenda through to extend the protection of local marine parks, including Cape D’Aguilar.

We were awed, as we read in the news that the government considered the detonation would not affect the coastal reserve. Therefore, we research into what a detonation really looks like and the extent of destruction an explosive of 226 kilograms of TNT could possibly cause.

In the below video, the scientists demonstrated in a laboratory test what happened when a bomb exploded and the devastating effects it caused at a close-range. We might not be able to see the huge fireball and all the smoke coming under the waters of Cape D’Aguilar, but we could at least visualize, how the blast wave from the explosive spread into the area around it and what a typical shock wave looks like, and that helps us imagine the amount of pressure being exerted over targets close to it within a very short period of time.

Another train of thought to evaluate the destruction of Cape D’Aguilar marine habitats is by the energy yielded by the bomb. According to Wikipeida, under controlled conditions, 1 kilogram of TNT can destroy (or even obliterate) a small vehicle. On December 11, 2016, the bomb attack inside Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt, that released 12 kilogram of TNT, claimed 25 lives. Given the detonation of the war-era bomb in Cape D’Aguilar Marine Reserve yielded 226 kilograms of TNT, how catastrophic was the explosion of this naval mine underwater? Doing a simple math would give us a hint:

226kg TNT = 26 small vehicles destroyed

226kg TNT = 226/12 x 25 = 471 dead

In fact, a more recent research also warned that TNT is toxic to organisms. In humans, TNT and metabolites are mutagenic and of relevant urothelial carcinogenicity, as well as toxic to the liver, kidneys, eyes, skin, blood system and spleen. Many studies have shown acute and chronic toxic effects on marine species like shrimp, fish, copepods, corals, amphipods and bivalves.[1]

If we look at the facts here, what seemingly true to say the detonation would not affect the coastal reserve, is as though we are to say 26 destroyed vehicles did not exist, or 471 lives lost did not matter, or TNT is not at all toxic to marine creatures and humans.

Now then, do you hear the big bang? Yes it’s a bombing raid in wartime! Move move move, it’s time for us to wake up and defend our hope for marine conservation, before it’s too late.

[1] Strehse, J. S., Brenner, M., Kisiela, M., & Maser, E. (2020). The explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT) induces gene expression of carbonyl reductase in the blue mussel (Mytilus spp.): a new promising biomarker for sea dumped war relicts?. Archives of toxicology94(12), 4043–4054. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00204-020-02931-y