REPORTING BY Elizabeth Kerr PHOTOS BY Duey Tam
We are interested in connecting busy Hong Kong people and businesses with nature,” opens Keilem Ng, the Tong Fuk-based founder of Eco Marine HK. “Our activities are open to all and they range from beach and underwater clean-ups to nature walks and upcycling projects.” Eco Marine is familiar to anyone
who cares about Lantau’s beaches and the overabundance of plastic on them and in the water. The non-profit community organisation has had a hand in more than a few beach clean-ups since its launch in 2012, and for Keilem, it’s the perfect way to make change and raise awareness.
“There are different ways for everyone to help and make change – from moms to politicians to artists to single consumers,” she says. “I enjoy working with people on a more personal level.”
Keilem is one of those disarmingly gentle types – soft-spoken, polite, obviously listening when others talk. But that first impression envelops a steely dedication to telling you what she thinks if you ask her opinion – say, of the government’s unshakeable determination to reclaim land around Lantau.
“I understand the political agenda… but I don’t think we need to keep growing to compete with Shanghai or Shenzhen,” she says. “We’re never going to be 20 or 30 million… There’s this thing about ‘competing,’ that we need the biggest airport and the biggestport. I don’t think we need to compete like that, and that’s the model we have right now. But that’s just me.”
There’s no doubt that Keilem leads by example, and never more so than with her month-long 30 for 30 Challenge back in June 2017, when she decided to dedicate 30 minutes each day to cleaning Tong Fuk pebble beach. She documented her project on the Eco Marine Facebook page, sharing photos of the items she found washed up on the shore in order to highlight just how damaging our ‘single use’ lifestyle can be to the environment. “I wanted to give back to nature that has been so kind to me and also to explore the power of one individual’s actions and habits,’’ Keilem says.
The 30 for 30 Challenge garnered a lot of attention, inspiring people across Hong Kong to get involved in the conservation effort. These days, over the course of an average Eco Marine beach clean-up, Keilem is ready to educate participants about the dangers of marine pollution (ghost nets, polystyrene, micro plastics etc) but overall, she prefers to stand back and let the environment do the talking. If a picture speaks a thousand words, then plastic detritus washing up on the beaches speaks millions.
“Eliminating plastic straws is just one small step. But it’s a start. One thing’s for sure, now that I’ve tried to reduce my plastic, I eat a lot less potato chips,” she cracks.
Eco Marine is hands-on activism, and it’s become a stalwart on Hong Kong’s ecological landscape because Keilem’s realistic approach simply asks that we consider what we truly value – be that clean water, reducing waste or general wellness.
“We need to live in the world,” she says. “Go ahead and live on a commune in an undeveloped area, but plenty of good has come from progress and technology… I know people who’ve come close to nervous breakdowns because they’ve gone to extremes and have had to say ‘No’ to every single activity. It’s about making change in your own way.” So ahead of the next Eco Marine clean-up, what three things would Keilem recommend anyone interested do to get greener?
She suggests starting by going outside and experiencing nature on some level to get a grip on what we’re losing. Then pick something you can personally change with little effort. Maybe that means cutting back on meat or actively avoiding plastic bags. Finally, spread the word, which is why Keilem’s three steps came so fast. “That’s an easy question for me,” she finishes. “It’s what I tell people every day.”
Eco Marine HK envisions a society where nature and modern urban life thrive. Its mission is to inspire greater appreciation and guardianship of nature and to catalyse action for integrating this mindset into all aspects of contemporary urban life.