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Hong Kong Choked by Growing Pollution Problem

Discarded cigarette packets, McDonald's wrappers and even old socks litter the shores of Lau Fau Shan in Hong Kong's far north, home to what remains of the territory's oyster farming industry. From across the border in China, factories belch smoke into the fetid air over Deep Bay, one of Hong Kong's most polluted stretches of water.

Ten years after the territory was handed back to the Chinese, pollution is one of the biggest problems facing the former British colony as it bears the environmental consequences of China's rampant economic growth. For around a third of last year, Hong Kong's renowned Victoria Harbour was obscured by a grimy haze, with the number of days of reduced visibility up by 172 per cent since 1997.

Even the government says smog is now "a common phenomenon" throughout the heavily industrialised Pearl River Delta region of southern China. "Pollution is a huge problem," said Lew Young of the World Wildlife Fund, which studies water and air quality. "Visit Lau Fau Shan and you will certainly be wary of buying oysters in Hong Kong. But it is the rubbish you can't see that's causing the real problems."

Young manages the Mai Po marshes, a haven for migratory birds in northwest Hong Kong and designated a site of special scientific interest in 1976. Since then Shenzhen, just over the border in China, has grown from a small fishing community into a thriving port and manufacturing hub of around seven million people, with huge environmental consequences.

"A lot of buildings were put up in a hurry -- cowboy stuff -- with no connections to proper sewage plants, because it was cheaper and easier just to connect them to the storm drains. Which means the sewage just flows straight into the bay," said Young. "The authorities are planning to build more treatment plants on the Shenzhen side, but the pace of development is such that they cannot keep up." Agriculture adds to the problem.

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