Under China’s shadow, Hong Kong’s wetlands face unsure future

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Hong Kong, China – Barry Ma friends via the lens of his high-powered telescope and raises his arm as he factors in pleasure.

“Here!” he says in a hushed voice. “Look here.”

Ma has noticed a pair of little grebes — a duck-like hen, however an unrelated species — swimming on a pond in Hong Kong’s wetlands, nestled within the metropolis’s rural New Territories.

An eco-guide for the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong (WWF-Hong Kong), Ma is main a small group of holiday makers via the Mai Po Nature Reserve underneath a brilliant solar on a damp morning.

He identifies numerous species contained in the 380-hectare (939-acre) reserve: white-breasted water hens; yellow-bellied prinias; black-winged stilts; Oriental magpie-robins; nice egrets and little egrets.

But his enthusiasm is tempered by an unsure future for the wetlands, that are additionally home to frogs, fiddler crabs, pangolins, water buffalos — even a handful of Eurasian otters, an elusive nocturnal mammal.

Hk Wetlands
Hong Kong’s wetlands are an vital stopping level for migratory birds, together with black-faced spoonbills [Courtesy of Barry Ma]

Urbanisation is coming to the wetlands, and it stays to be seen whether or not the world’s biodiversity can proceed to thrive together with human improvement.

The Hong Kong authorities, nominally semi-autonomous from Beijing underneath a system referred to as “one country, two systems”, has acknowledged the significance of defending the wetlands and has laid out proposals to protect their biodiversity. At the identical time, officers and the enterprise group are dedicated to increasing town’s integration with southern China.

For a glimpse of what’s to return, one simply must look throughout Deep Bay, the physique of water that separates Mai Po from mainland China.

The gleaming highrises of Shenzhen, with a inhabitants of greater than 17 million, loom simply past the wetlands, offering a stark reminder of the speedy financial industrialisation of the area.

The way forward for Hong Kong’s wetlands, an vital stopping level for migratory birds, appears precarious. And efforts to protect the wetlands — by each the federal government and environmental non-governmental organisations — at the moment are underneath scrutiny.

Mai Po sits deep contained in the Hong Kong authorities’s proposed Northern Metropolis — an formidable plan to rework the principally rural space right into a sprawling residential and enterprise group that may additional tighten its hyperlink with Shenzhen, an vital expertise hub that’s home to such firms as Tencent, Huawei and DJI.

Birds
Hong Kong incorporates a 380-hectare (939-acre) reserve that’s home to a wide range of birds, together with the Oriental magpie-robin [Courtesy of Barry Ma]

The plan is a part of Hong Kong’s pivot in the direction of the so-called Greater Bay Area, which encompasses components of Guangdong Province, together with Shenzhen, in addition to Macau and Hong Kong. It boasts a inhabitants of nearly 90 million.

The Northern Metropolis plan has been welcomed with cautious optimism amongst conservationists, however they are saying extra particulars are wanted.

“We understand that governments are economic-oriented, but we focus on what they can do on nature conservation,” Yu Yat-tung, director of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, advised Al Jazeera. “We are waiting for more details on the conservation side.”

The Northern Metropolis proposal must be greater than “words on paper,” Yu added.

“We need to see a concrete plan.”

Similarly, Billy CH Hau, principal lecturer within the School of Biological Sciences on the University of Hong Kong, mentioned the proposal to guard the wetlands seems to be a optimistic move, however “there is a general lack of details on the implementation”.

Whether the Northern Metropolis plan will really profit the general wetlands system stays to be seen, Hau mentioned.

“It’s very difficult to say.”

The Northern Metropolis is envisioned by the federal government as a centre for the innovation and expertise sectors, and can present house for a whole bunch of hundreds of latest housing models.

The present inhabitants within the northern New Territories stands at roughly 960,000, with about 390,000 residential models, based on the federal government. Hong Kong’s present inhabitants is about 7.four million.

The authorities says that when the Northern Metropolis is accomplished, in about 20 years, it may probably assist a inhabitants of two.5 million and improve whole housing to 926,000 models.

Jobs within the area would leap to an estimated 650,000 from 116,000. While such development is predicted to place a pressure on the wetlands, the federal government has promised to protect the world’s biodiversity by integrating rural and concrete improvement whereas selling conservation and ecotourism.

Map On A Big Screen Showing The Great Bay Area To An Assembled Crowd.
Hong Kong’s authorities is pursuing better integration with southern China’s Greater Bay Area, home to nearly 90 million [File: Kin Cheung/AP]

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, town’s chief, described the Northern Metropolis as “the foothold for Hong Kong’s strategic development” in his coverage tackle in October.

“A number of major development projects in the area have already commenced,” Lee mentioned in his speech, including that the area will finally be a “new international I&T city” that may promote enterprise improvement with sustainable living.

Lee additionally promised to guard the wetlands, saying that the federal government would purchase privately-owned wetlands and fish ponds “with ecological value and develop a wetland conservation parks system, with a view to increasing the environmental capacity for the development of the Northern Metropolis”.

Wetlands occupy roughly 5 % — simply greater than 50 sq. kilometres (19 sq. miles) — of Hong Kong’s 1,110sq km (425sq miles), based on authorities statistics. They present a number of advantages to each people and wildlife by mitigating local weather change, providing a supply of meals and gathering rainfall runoff that helps to forestall flooding.

In its Northern Metropolis proposal, the federal government has estimated that the overall space for wetlands and coastal conservation can be about 20sq km, which incorporates the present wetland park and the Mai Po Nature Reserve.

WWF-Hong Kong has managed the character reserve for nearly 40 years underneath the authority of the federal government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, which itself is chargeable for your entire 1,540-hectare (3,805-acre) Mai Po Inner Deep Bay Ramsar Site.

Eric Wikramanayake, director of wildlife and wetlands at WWF-Hong Kong, mentioned the proposal for the Northern Metropolis is predicted to be “custom designed” to incorporate the wetlands throughout the infrastructure.

“We need to work closely with the authorities,” Wikramanayake advised Al Jazeera, including that his organisation additionally serves as a watchdog. “We cannot oppose development at all costs — development has to happen — but development has to integrate conservation priorities.”

Conservation additionally helps to protect the livelihoods of employees who rely upon the wetlands and its assets, Wikramanayake mentioned.

“There should be solutions to ensure that people are fed and housed and have a stable future,” he mentioned.

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