Iconic harbor swim returns to Hong Kong after 33 years

Iconic harbor swim returns to Hong Kong after 33 years

Race resumes due to cleaner water, winner crosses Victoria Harbour in just over 20 minutes
new world harbour race 2011
Swimmers race across Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour despite the threat of E.coli bacteria in the water.

After a hiatus of more than 30 years, Hong Kong's cross-harbor swim recommenced early Sunday with 1,000 swimmers racing across Victoria Harbour.

Swimmers dived into the harbor at Lei Yu Mun's Sam Ka Tsuen pier and raced 1.89 kilometers to Quarry Bay Park pier. 

Ling Tin-Yu -- a member of the Hong Kong swim team -- won the race, crossing Victoria Harbour in 20 minutes, 34 seconds.

Now branded the New World Harbour Race 2011, the event began more than 100 years ago, but has not been held since 1978 due to polluted waters and busy harbor traffic.

Last week, data from Hong Kong's Environmental Protection Department (EPD) revealed E. coli levels in the harbor were twice the maximum acceptable level at Hong Kong bathing beaches.

The Green Harbour Actions environmental concern group warned that swimmers partaking in the swim risked becoming ill.

However, the EPD announced water quality in the harbor, particularly in the eastern section where the race took place, has "shown significant improvement" and E. coli levels have decreased by 95 percent since a new sewage treatment scheme began in 2001.

Organizers said E. coli levels since October 15, a day before the race, were at acceptable levels and no swimmer has reported becoming ill so far.

Also on CNNGo: The facility that is cleaning up Victoria Harbour

Ling, the winner of the men's individual competition, said he felt that today's weather conditions, water temperature and calm seas were suitable for racing.

As for pollution levels, Ling said that "the water was clear."

Among the youngest competitors in Sunday's swim was 12-year-old Lo Cheuk-ling, who felt the water quality was "not bad." Apart from some floating leaves, he said he did not see any rubbish in the harbor.

Doug Woodring, co-founder of the Ocean Recovery Alliance and Project Kaisei, was a spectator at the harbor race. He was happy that many people came out to swim and watch the race.

"So many people came out and it really shows the value of the ocean," said Woodring. "The more we clean up the water, the more opportunities there are to do these sorts of events.

"Even though the water quality is not perfect yet, it is great to see that people care about the water."


New World Harbour Race 2011Among the approximately 1,000 participants were those as old as 68 and as young as 12 years old.

New World Harbour Race 2011Wu Kin-yuen, a 58-year-old schoolteacher, took part in the cross-harbor races of 1977 and 1978. He remembers the waters being "much rougher" back then.New World Harbour Race 2011Many of the participants have been training on a daily basis in Victoria Harbour for years.New World Harbour Race 2011Swimmers are advised to wash every inch of their bodies, including their eyes, after emerging from Victoria Harbour.

New World Harbour Race 2011Winners of the women's team race (L to R) Vivian Cheung Wing Chi, Michele Wong Suet Yan and Janice Poon Wan Yi. Their coach participated in the race more than 30 years ago.

New World Harbour Race 2011Men's champion Ling Tin-yu (left) and Natasha Tang Wing-yun crossed the finish line at 20 minutes, 34 seconds and 23 minutes, 7 seconds, respectively.

After traveling around the world on a fistful of dollars, Zoe returns to Hong Kong, where she grew up, to discover and write about all the inspiring stuff that happens here on a daily basis.

Read more about Zoe Li

Professional photographer, writer, environmental scientist, Bruce Foreman recently published "Flea, a Himalayan Adventure," a story for adults-who-like-childrens'-books, as well as "A Poetic Universe," a digital Tibetan prayer wheel.

Read more about Bruce Foreman