It was around 10:00 when the eight of us jumped in and hauled our gear aboard the rented junk that would serve as our environmental sampling headquarters for the day. The boat was spacious and open with a middle room that served as the control center and dining room, and an outer portion with seats enough for 15 people and a table to set up our equipment. It was hot but not as hot as it should have been, given that a thick haze blotted out many of sun’s rays. The air muted the silhouettes of distant islands and wrapped around skyscrapers like a thick blanket. The dark blue-green water frothed in patterns behind the boat and the wind was refreshing as we set off from the dock. Our mission for the day: travel from the western portion of Kowloon through Victoria harbor to the eastern portion of the island, stopping at eight different sampling destinations along the way.
From each site, the goal was to collect sediment and surface water samples for two different research projects being conducted by City University graduate students. One study intended to test the samples for UV filters, compounds found in sunscreens and other personal care products that can cause infections and bleaching effects in corals. Some may mimic hormones by acting as estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, androgenic, or anti-androgenic and have been shown to bioaccumulate in animal and human tissues. The other study intended to test the seawater for PFC’s, or perfluorocarbons. These compounds are used to repel stains or liquids, especially in food packaging, cookware, fabrics, and personal care products. They are ubiquitous in the environment and have been shown to cause a wide range of environmental and human health problems.
To collect sediment samples, a metal dredging box was lowered from an outer ledge on the boat by rope to the seafloor, where a door opened to scoop up about 5-10 pounds of sediment. This was a task for strong muscles as the water in Victoria Harbor has an average depth of 12 meters or about 39 feet. While the guys manned the sediment samples, the ladies collected 4 gallons of water per site, distributed among various containers to take back for analysis. The first few sites were relatively calm, just a few boats creating waves alongside us. However, when we stopped at heart of our route, the central portion of Victoria harbor, named one of the busiest in the world, lived up to its reputation. Ferries, sampans, and large container ships crisscrossed our path and sent huge waves hurtling toward us, causing the boat to rock violently from one side to the other. The team held on to the equipment tightly as it flew about the cabin, and consequently I flew across the deck too. We finally got the samples we needed, after copious amounts of spilled water, a couple bruises and a few seasick graduate students. Our hard work was rewarded with a tasty dim sum feast of sticky rice dumplings, shumai, har gow, and rice. After 6 hours, I stepped off the junk onto Kwun Tong pier, tired but happy. Happy to have experienced the thrills and challenges of my first outdoor environmental sampling and optimistic that the information we gathered will help to make the world a cleaner place.
Read more about UV filters and PFC’s here: