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Hong Kong’s Smart Underwater Device to Combat Water Pollution

Image Credits: HKSAR Government Website, Press Release

In an effort to combat water pollution, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has introduced the use of cutting-edge smart underwater devices. This innovative approach aims to investigate drainage channels, enabling EPD officers to effectively identify and detect the sources of water pollution. By integrating smart underwater devices, EPD officers can effectively and efficiently dive beneath the water’s surface, gathering crucial data to aid in pollution source detection.

The recently introduced unmanned sampling submarine proved invaluable in solving a previously unsolvable water pollution case in Sha Tin’s Shing Mun River. Despite weeks of conventional investigation methods such as inspecting manholes and deploying divers, the inspectors were unable to find any leads on the pollution source. Complicating matters further, certain manholes were situated on a busy highway, making it impractical to close the road for inspection.

To overcome these challenges, the Department’s Innovation & Technology Task Force took an innovative approach. Instead of manually investigating each possible source, they used a submarine equipped with advanced technology to trace the pollution back to the drainage channel where it was initially detected. The submarine navigated through the muddy waters of the channel, aided by an additional periscope lens installed by the task force, providing clear observation of the surroundings.

Through the implementation of this smart submarine, the department swiftly pinpointed the origin of the polluted water, allowing them to take appropriate corrective measures and resolve the issue.

In addition to pollution investigations, the department uses the unmanned sampling submarine for various other environmental monitoring purposes. One notable example is the regular testing of water quality in the Shing Mun River to assess the effectiveness of environmental protection measures.

True to its capabilities, the submarine is equipped with a plug-in accessory that enables the collection of water samples. It also features a real-time water quality monitoring sensor, which continuously checks parameters such as dissolved oxygen, pH value, and turbidity.

Furthermore, the submarine’s underwater footage provides valuable insights into the biodiversity of the river and helps the department understand the state of water quality. This visual evidence showcases the significant progress made in improving the once heavily polluted Shing Mun River, achieved through collaborative efforts from various government departments.

Expanding its scope, the submarine supports the department in monitoring environmental remediation work related to the Three-Runway System project, spanning from Hong Kong’s rivers to the sea. As per the project’s environmental permit requirements, the relocation of corals in the affected waters is necessary.

Previously, the department had to rely solely on reports submitted by the permit holder to assess the situation. However, the use of the submarine now allows for safer and more direct monitoring of these activities, enhancing transparency and accuracy in environmental assessments.

In 2019, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) established the Innovation & Technology Task Force with the objective of exploring the implementation of smart technologies to overcome investigative challenges and enhance operational efficiency and safety.

The Principal Environmental Protection Officer emphasised that the task force is dedicated to promoting the use of technologies within the department. By collecting and considering input from frontline staff, the task force leverages the collective experience and wisdom of team members to develop and seek out technologies that prioritise the needs of the people.

In recognition of their efforts, the department was awarded the gold prize in the Best Use of Technology category at the Civil Service Outstanding Service Award Scheme 2022. The adjudicators acknowledged the department’s effective utilisation of various advanced technologies to combat pollution, highlighting the positive impact on citizens’ quality of life. This recognition underscores the explicit benefits derived from the application of technologies in environmental protection endeavours.


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