On July 23, typhoon Vicente struck Hong Kong with winds in excess of 140 km/h (87 mph) accompanied by heavy downpours. Hundreds of trees were felled, airline flights were cancelled, and a few dozen injuries were reported, but by the next morning, life in Hong Kong had already begun returning to normal.
During the storm, six cargo containers broke loose from the vessel, Yong Xin Jie 1, spilling an estimated 150 tons of plastic pellets into the South China Sea. Within 48 hours those pellets began washing up on Hong Kong beaches.
While the pellets, known as nurdles and used to make a wide variety of plastic products, are themselves not toxic, they have the ability to absorb toxins and pollutants. Only millimeters in diameter, they can be mistaken for fish eggs, and thus, are able to enter the marine and avian food chains, carrying any absorbed toxins with them.
Sinopec, the Chinese oil major that owns the nurdles yesterday pledged 10 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.3 million US) to assist in the cleanup of Hong Kong beaches, which to date has been tackled mostly by volunteers.
Pellets have already been found in the guts of farmed fish, and environmentalists are concerned that the ecological impacts may last for years.