20 Years of Beach Water Quality Monitoring in Hong Kong | 繁體中文 | 簡體中文 |

| Director's Message | Overview | The Beach Water Quality Monitoring Programme | Monitoring of Beach Water Quality | Ranking and Grading Hong Kong's Beaches | Handling Emergencies | Informing the Public about Beach Water Quality | An Overview of Beach Water Quality up to 2005 | Comparing Beach Rankings | Supplementary Material |

An Overview of Beach Water Quality up to 2005
Hong Kong's beaches and their rankings
For administrative and practical reasons, the EPD classifies Hong Kong's beaches into groups depending on their location. The beaches of Southern District are all those situated on the southern coast of Hong Kong island, while Sai Kung District covers the territory's eastern coastline and its beaches. The Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun Districts are here treated together because their respective beaches run along the coastline extending from Tsuen Wan to Tuen Mun. Finally, Outlying Islands District covers the splendid beaches of Lantau, Lamma and Cheung Chau.
Hong Kong South: the beaches of Southern District
Southern District beaches over the past twenty years

[Photo of Repulse Bay Beach in the 1980s - an open channel ran through the beach, and squatter shacks stood nearby]

[Photo of Squatters in the beach hinterland]

Back in 1986, the beaches in Southern DistrictˇXwhich range from the wide, safe and sweeping sands of Repulse Bay to more exposed surf beaches such as Big Wave BayˇXwere not in great shape, and with rapid population growth in the area they had deteriorated further by 1990. The problem was a familiar one: most of the sewage disposal facilities in the beach hinterlands had been built in the 1970s and designed to serve a relatively small population. With the rapid growth of the 1980s, pressure on the facilities increased to breaking point. Commercial premises, squatters and other residents often discharged sewage directly into stormwater channels, meaning that raw sewage made its way straight to large beaches like Repulse Bay, Deep Water Bay, Shek O and Rocky Bay. A few pig farmers around Stanley added to the problem: their waste affected beaches on the Stanley peninsula including St Stephen's Beach. Despite their beautiful situations, most of the beaches in Southern District were unsafe for swimming. By 1986, it was clear that urgent restorative measures were necessary.

The Government began by implementing pollution control legislation to improve water quality. The keeping of livestock in urban areas was banned, and the pig farms on the Stanley peninsula closed down. Equally importantly, a programme was put in place to intercept and divert polluting stormwater channels away from beaches. Further measures were taken to reduce pollution from drains and watercourses. Much 'first aid' work was carried out in 1988 and 1989 involving intercepting and diverting polluting storm flows, and by 1990 improvement in water quality at the beaches was already in evidence.
By 1989, all Southern District Beaches except one complied with the WQO, and they have continued to comply ever since. That is not the end of the story however, because even after meeting the minimum WQO standard, many of these beaches have gone from strength to strength. Work continued on improvements at the beaches in the 1990s, as sewerage facilities to collect waste water from the Deep Water Bay, Shouson Hill and Repulse Bay areas were put in place between 1991 and 1995. The area around Stanley benefited from a new sewage treatment facility at Pak Sha Wan (Tweed Bay) discharging at Sheung Sze Mun, which was completed by the middle of 1995. Following this, an extensive public sewer connection programme in the area was carried out.
For a while, Rocky Bay was the sole exception to the trend described above, partly due to a large area of unsewered village houses close by. However, after drainage improvements diverted waste water outlets further away from the beach, it finally achieved WQO compliance in 1999 and since then has consistently met the WQO threshold.
Southern District beaches in 2005

[Photo of Repulse Bay Beach today]

By now, the beaches of Southern District have established a long-standing tradition of good water quality, and 2005 was another good year for swimmers using these beaches. Despite the heavy rainfall, ten of the district's twelve beaches maintained annual rankings of 'Good', and just Big Wave Bay Beach and Rocky Bay Beach registered 'Fair' rankings. Around 95% of the samples from all beaches in the district met the WQO, and 72% achieved a 'Good' grading. Not surprisingly then, these Southern District beaches are today some of the most popular and well-used in Hong Kong, and provide beautiful bathing conditions in a stunning scenic environment.

One unusual event of 2005 occurred in early July, when swimmers and visitors at Southern District beaches began to notice a constant stream of floating debris washed about in the shallows and piled up on the beaches. The EPD immediately went on alert, stepping up monitoring frequencies. This extra monitoring did not show any signs of a rise in E. coli levels at the beaches, but the debris was nevertheless a nuisance. After carrying out further investigations, the EPD discovered that the floating materials originated from the upper reaches of the Pearl River. Severe floods in those parts after exceptionally heavy rainfall and flooding had carried quantities of debris down the Pearl River and out to sea. Winds and tides in the Pearl River Delta region then combined to carry the floating debris across to Hong Kong. Despite the debris, the beaches on the southern coast of Hong Kong Island all managed to maintain gradings of 'Good' or 'Fair' over this period.
Hong Kong East: the beaches of Sai Kung District
Sai Kung District beaches over the past 20 years

[Photo of Clear Water Bay First Beach]

The beaches of Hong Kong's Sai Kung District have enjoyed a long reputation for being some of the cleanest and most unspoiled in the territory. Even in the 1980s, when many of Hong Kong's beaches were in poor shape, most of the Sai Kung District beaches managed to achieve 'Good' rankings consistently. They benefited from the fact that Hong Kong's wild and island-studded east coast, which includes the extensive Sai Kung Country Park, has never been as densely populated as other parts of the territory, and pressure from human habitation has thus been lower.
Silverstrand Beach was for a period the main exception to this rule, due to a relatively heavy population on the steep slopes above the beach, whose septic tanks regularly affected beach water quality. In 2001 the public sewer was extended to Silverstrand, and since then the EPD has been actively encouraging residents to connect to the public sewers. As each year goes by, fewer and fewer houses are using septic tanks and the beach is consequently becoming less susceptible to pollution. Currently, over 50% of Silverstrand area residents are connected to the public sewers and the trend is expected to continue in the next few years.
Occasional incidents have occurred at other beaches too: for example, Clear Water Bay First Beach for a while was affected by pollution from a contaminated stormwater drain in the vicinity. The EPD has carried out ongoing enforcement actions to minimise the recurrence of incidents like this. Some improvements were achieved by upgrading the beach environments, as in the building of new beach facilities and toilets for Clear Water Bay Second beach, the waste water from which was treated and discharged well away from the beach, south of the So Shi Tau promontory. The commissioning of a disinfection unit at the wastewater treatment facility for Clear Water Bay Second beach in early 2002 has also brought about improvements.
Sai Kung District beaches in 2005
[Photo of Sewerage connection works at Silverstrand Beach]

In 2005, of the six gazetted beaches in Sai Kung District, five maintained their 'Good' rankings, with Hap Mun Bay and Trio Beach both distinguishing themselves by maintaining 100% 'Good' gradings across the season. The sixth, Silverstrand Beach, remained ranked 'Fair', but the unchanged ranking disguises several improvements at the beach.
By 2005, the risk of pollution from septic tanks used in the hinterland of Silverstrand Beach had been much reduced, as more and more village houses became connected to the public sewer. The public sewer has been available in the area since 2001. Since 2002, water quality at the beach has shown gradual improvement, and this trend has continued over the past two years despite the heavy rainfall of 2005. As shown in the graph, rainfall in 2005 was around twice that of 2004, yet the annual geometric mean of E. coli levels at Silverstrand Beach continued to decrease in 2005, and the beach only experienced one Grade 4 occasion in 2005, compared with two in the previous year.
Hong Kong West: the beaches of Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun Districts

[Photo of Controlling waste discharge from a livestock farm]

The beaches ranged along Hong Kong's western coasts are situated in the Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun Districts. Located close to two of Hong Kong's densely-populated towns, Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun, these beaches have all been characterised over the years by a struggle to deal with pollution from intensive development in the vicinity. In the early years, pig farming was another major contributor to poor water quality, but this source of pollution has largely been controlled since the implementation of the revised Livestock Waste Control Scheme in 1994.

As can be seen from the charts, the annual ranking statistics clearly divide the beaches of Tuen Mun from those of Tsuen Wan District and indicate a distinct divergence in the historical development of the beaches of each district. The cluster of Tuen Mun beaches to the west have shown gradual improvement over the past twenty years, and by 2005 all managed to maintain 'Fair' rankings for the year. Within the gradings for these beaches across 2005, Grade 2 ('Fair') dominated, with a couple of beaches even managing to achieve the occasional Grade 1, and only one beach experiencing any Grade 4 incidents. By contrast, the Tsuen Wan beaches have yet to show forward momentum in the battle against pollution, for reasons that are discussed below. Most were closed to swimmers in 2005, though Ma Wan Tung Wan bucked the trend of its location and managed to achieve an annual ranking of 'Fair'. Overall, it is worth noting that in 2005 the combined beaches of the Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan Districts met the WQO 81% of the time, and the non-WQO compliant occasions were mostly generated by a small group of Tsuen Wan beaches.
Tsuen Wan District
Tsuen Wan District beaches: the historical background

[Photo of A pig shed (upper right) behind Anglers' Beach]

Back in the 1980s, Tsuen Wan beaches had to deal with at least three major pollution challenges. Two were faced in common with other areas around Hong Kong: namely, waste runoff from pig farms in the vicinity and extensive discharge of raw sewage from squatter areas and other developments lacking adequate sewage facilities. The third, however, related to the specific geography of the Tsuen Wan coastline. Tides frequently brought polluted marine water from the Rambler Channel (between Tsuen Wan and Tsing Yi) north-west along the line of coast where the gazetted beaches are located.

The problem of animal waste was largely solved in the 1980s with the clampdown on the siting of farms in and around urban areas. The pollution generated from sewage, however, has been more persistent and continues to compromise beach water quality in the district. The extension of the public sewer and connection of unsewered villages along Castle Peak Road (behind many of the Tsuen Wan beaches) is still on-going. This has been further complicated by undisinfected effluent discharged from Stage 1 of the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS) since late 2001. Though the Scheme has brought about general improvement in the harbour's water quality, particularly the eastern side, the discharge is released from a tunnelled outfall from the Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment Works, situated around eight kilometers from many of the beaches. Tides and currents have resulted in the HATS discharge affecting beach water quality in the Tsuen Wan District.
Tsuen Wan District beaches: the situation in 2005
[Photo of Ma Wan Tung Wan Beach]

Of the eight beaches in the Tsuen Wan District, seven did not meet the WQO for bathing beaches in 2005 and remained closed during the bathing season, as they were in 2004. The water quality at Tsuen Wan District beaches was also affected by the year's high rainfall. Four of the closed beaches saw their ranking fall from 'Poor' to 'Very Poor' for the year. The exception to the list of closed Tsuen Wan beaches was Ma Wan Tung Wan Beach on Park Island, which maintained its 'Fair' ranking for the year and was kept open for swimmers. Ma Wan Tung Wan Beach did experience occasional Grade 4 periods after heavy rainfall, but overall its water quality was much better than the other Tsuen Wan beaches, partly as a result of its location.

[Image of Diagrammatic illustration of Stages 1 and 2 of the HATS Project]

Although beach water quality remains poor in the district, there are reasons for optimism concerning the future. HATS has not yet begun to disinfect the effluent which it discharges and, as noted, this discharge does affect beach water quality. The Government is working on the next stage of the treatment project (HATS Stage 2A), and hopes to be in a position to disinfect discharges from the Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment Works by 2009, subject to community support for its plan to recover operating costs through sewage charges. This should result in an improvement in the bacteriological quality of the surrounding seawater, and would be a significant milestone in the EPD's attempts to prepare the seven closed Tsuen Wan beaches for re-opening.

Over the year the EPD has been active in encouraging residents to play their part in improving beach water quality. In a joint effort of the EPD, the Drainage Services Department and the public, many village houses, residential blocks and commercial complexes in the Sham Tseng area have been connected to the public sewers. Currently some sewerage works along Castle Peak Road are in progress. Once the main sewer trunks are completed in 2009, the EPD will ask owners of village houses and other buildings to connect to the public sewer as soon as possible. Tackling local pollution at source will further enhance the benefits arising from effluent disinfection at Stage 2A of the HATS programme.
Tuen Mun District

Tuen Mun District beaches: the historical background

Although in the 1980s Tuen Mun beaches shared with those of Tsuen Wan an unenviable reputation for poor water quality, concerted work by the EPD and other Government Departments over recent years has managed to reverse this trend. Almost all the Tuen Mun beaches recorded very high E. coli counts in 1986, particularly those closest to Tuen Mun town itself. A major problem at the time was the Tuen Mun Nullah, a foul stretch of water the discharges from which consistently contaminated beaches in its vicinity. The Tuen Mun Sewerage Master Plan (SMP), drafted in 1993, was aimed at improving beach water quality in the district. Stage 1 of the SMP began in 1994 and involved increasing sewer capacities and networks. Stage 2 of the project was initiated in 1997, and the trunk sewer further extended in range so that public sewer connection became available for many more village communities. The results of this work were marked when it came to beach water quality. Beaches that for years had been unsafe for swimming became 'user-friendly' once more. Perhaps the best single example of this is the story of Castle Peak Beach, opened to the public again in 2005.

Tuen Mun District in 2005

[Photo of Castle Peak Beach in 1981 with a drain at the far end (above), and re-opened in 2005 (below)]

The continued improvement to sewer facilities over the years saw the situation in Tuen Mun District turn around in the 1990s. The six Tuen Mun District beaches all managed to meet the WQO in 2005, and have each maintained a 'Fair' ranking since 1999, but this does not tell the full story. Symbolic of the change in the District's fortunes is the case of Castle Peak Beach. The beach was closed back in 1981 when water quality hit alarmingly low levels. After a long period, sewerage enhancements in the district along with pollution control programmes began to have a positive effect on water quality, and in the 1990s the water quality at Castle Peak Beach improved steadily. The beach was first ranked 'Fair' in 1999, and has maintained this ranking ever since. In fact, Castle Peak Beach was a good candidate for re-opening earlier than 2005, but the condition of the seabed proved to be poor and potentially unsafe for swimmers. Once improvement work was carried out to improve the seabed and new beach facilities were installed, Castle Peak Beach was officially opened on 1 June 2005 and has quickly become a popular destination for swimmers.

[Image of Water quality changes from 1986 to 2005 - Castle Peak Beach]

Beaches on Outlying Islands
A brief historical survey

[Photo of Cheung Chau Tung Wan Beach]

The Outlying Islands beaches are scattered on the islands of Lantau, Lamma, and Cheung Chau. Their distance from Hong Kong's main urban centres means they generally enjoy good clean water. In the years since 1986, a few have suffered on occasions from pollution caused by septic tank overflow, but the EPD has worked continuously to locate and remove these pollution sources. On Cheung Chau island, the water quality at Cheung Chau Tung Wan and Kwun Yam improved significantly after works in the mid 1990s in which wastewater was diverted away from the surface drains into which it had previously been flowing. Earlier, in 1989, a submarine sewage outfall was installed at the Cheung Chau Sewage Treatment Works, which proved effective in dispersing discharged effluent away from beaches. Further improvements occurred once the outfall was replaced by a new one utilising more effective diffusers in 2003, at which time other enhancements to the Treatment Works were also made.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all the beaches in the Outlying Islands District was Silver Mine Bay Beach. It has a somewhat complex history, due largely to the existence of a number of livestock farms in the hinterland for many years. Their discharges went into the rivers in Mui Wo area and were responsible for most of the pollution at the beach in the 1980s, to the extent that the beach was closed for the three years from 1987 to 1989. Once the Livestock Waste Control Scheme began to be implemented however, water quality rapidly improved, with noticeable changes evident by 1989. By the end of 1992 the five livestock farms in the area were completely closed down, resulting in further improved water quality. However, Silver Mine Bay continued to experience occasional problems on a smaller scale for some years.
The outlying islands beaches in 2005

[Photo of Silver Mine Bay Beach, Lantau]

In 2005 all but one of the nine beaches in the Outlying Islands District maintained an annual ranking of 'Good'. Four of the Outlying Islands beaches maintained Grade 1 ('Good') 100% of the time throughout the season, and none experienced any Grade 3 or Grade 4 periods.

Unlike the other beaches in the district, Silver Mine Bay achieved only a ¡§Fair¡¨ ranking in 2005, but its story is encouraging. The Government is making plans to upgrade the sewerage network and the treatment works in Silver Mine Bay. In addition, the EPD has been continuing its role of monitoring and controlling the effectiveness of septic tanks and soakaway pits, making sure that residents know their responsibilities when it comes to maintaining efficient working sewage systems and repairing leakages.
Non-gazetted Beaches

[Photo of Discovery Bay and its backdrop]

[Photo of The proposed Lung Mei Beach]

Of the many non-gazetted beaches scattered around Hong Kong's shores, the EPD monitored two over 2005: the beaches of Discovery Bay on Lantau, and Lung Mei on the northern edge of Tolo Harbour east of Tai Po. Discovery Bay is a beautiful and popular beach, situated in the Discovery Bay residential development and maintained a 'Good' ranking for 2005. By contrast, Lung Mei is a beach 'in the making', as the Government plans to turn this originally rocky shore into an artificial bathing beach to complement the popular leisure facilities of nearby Tai Mei Tuk. Its annual ranking also remained the same as in 2004, at 'Fair'.

An Overview of Hong Kong's beaches in 2005
In summary, the situation after twenty years of hard work is one the EPD can take satisfaction from, especially by comparison with the situation it faced when it first began operations. Of Hong Kong's 41 gazetted beaches, 34 (or 83%) were WQO compliant in 2005, being ranked either 'Good' (23) or 'Fair' (11). These beaches are located in the Southern, Sai Kung, Outlying Islands and Tuen Mun Districts. Seven beaches were not WQO compliant: one was ranked 'Poor' and the other six 'Very Poor': all these seven beaches were located in the Tsuen Wan District, and the Government is taking actions to improve the water quality at these beaches. The 2005 charts published here are a testimony to the effectiveness of the Beach Water Monitoring Programme. They also testify to the commitment and determination of the Government, and of course the general public, in their efforts to improve our beach environment for current and future generations.


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