Two interesting news items caught our attention last week: Hong Kong’s announcement that it was re-introducing the cross-harbour swimming race after 33 years and, just a few days earlier, widespread sightings of a red algal bloom in local waters.
Might swimmers emerge from the water in Quarry Bay looking like the Swamp Thing? We worried that such fears would put people off, so we asked readers in our web poll last week what they reckoned — would they be willing to brave the harbour? Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they proved themselves to be a group that will do almost anything as long as the money is right.
“There’s always a clearing price,” said one banker. “But you’d have to be talking serious money to persuade me to get into that stinking puddle.”
The New World Cross-Harbour Race will be held on October 16, when a maximum of 1,000 competitors will swim from Lei Yue Mun on Kowloon side to Quarry Bay on Hong Kong island — a distance of about 1.8 kilometres. Swimmers can compete as individuals or as three-person teams.
The first official race took place in 1912, between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central, and ran until 1979, when it was abandoned due to the heavy pollution. The race organisers, the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association and New World Development, have said that the water quality is now good enough for the race to resume.
Not everyone is convinced. One of the paddlers in the FinanceAsia office wouldn’t even consider dipping an oar in the harbour, much less swallowing great mouthfuls of the stuff — and that’s without the added bonus of a vast red tide, which one Cathay pilot claimed could be seen 30 miles out to sea.
The current spate of algal blooms is being produced by a rare species in local waters, Protopolykrikos distortus, apparently, and covers a vast area all around Hong Kong island, including the entire race course, as well as Lamma and Lantau islands.
On the upside, the algae are short-lived. On the downside, when they die the process of decomposition consumes oxygen from the water and can starve other marine life, creating a soup of rotting fish and algae. Fancy a dip?
Even so, the race is still a few weeks away and will be called off in the event of an algal bloom, according to the organisers. The new course has been chosen for its relatively better water quality, in the eastern part of the harbour, and the race will start in the morning when the tide flows in from Lei Yue Mun.
That should reduce the amount of garbage and effluence impeding the swimmers’ progress. To further ensure their survival, competitors will have to meet a certain standard to be eligible — basically, being able to swim 1.5km, equivalent to 30 lengths of an Olympic-size pool, in 45 minutes or less.
Of course, Hong Kong’s financial institutions are noted for their charitable efforts and we expect they will all be sending teams into the harbour. Our mailboxes await the announcements.