Home World China’s rise casts shadow over Hong Kong’s teeming wetlands | Environment News

China’s rise casts shadow over Hong Kong’s teeming wetlands | Environment News

by News Desk
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Hong Kong, China – Barry Ma peers through the lens of a high-powered telescope, raises his arm and points with excitement.

“Here!” he says softly. “look here.”

Ma discovered a pair of small grebes, a duck-like but unrelated species, in a Hong Kong wetland pond located in Hong Kong’s New Territories countryside.

WWF-Hong Kong eco-guide Ma leads a small group of visitors to Mai Po Nature Reserve on a humid morning under the bright sun.

He has identified many species within the 380-hectare (939-acre) reserve. yellow-bellied prinia; black-winged stilts; oriental magpie robin. great egret and little egret.

But his enthusiasm is tempered by the uncertain future of the wetlands, which are also home to frogs, fiddler crabs, pangolins and buffaloes.

Hong Kong’s wetlands are important stopover sites for migratory birds, including black-faced spoonbills [Courtesy of Barry Ma]

Urbanization is coming to wetlands, and it remains to be seen whether biodiversity in the region can continue to thrive with human development.

The Hong Kong government, which is nominally semi-autonomous from Beijing under a system known as “one country, two systems”, has recognized the importance of protecting wetlands and proposed proposals to protect wetland biodiversity. is deployed. At the same time, officials and the business community are working to expand the city’s integration with southern China.

For a glimpse of what’s to come, just look out over Deep Bay, the body of water that separates Mai Po from mainland China.

With a population of more than 17 million, Shenzhen’s gleaming skyscrapers rise just beyond the wetlands and are a stark reminder of the region’s rapid economic and industrialization.

The future of Hong Kong’s wetlands, an important stopover site for migratory birds, looks bleak. And efforts to protect wetlands by both governments and environmental non-governmental organizations are now under scrutiny.

Mai Po lies deep within the Hong Kong government’s proposed northern metropolitan area. It is an ambitious plan to transform a largely rural area into a sprawling residential and business community that will further strengthen ties with Shenzhen, a key technology hub that is home to companies such as Tencent. , Huawei, DJI.

Hong Kong has a 380-hectare (939-acre) reserve that is home to a variety of birds, including the Oriental Magpie Robin. [Courtesy of Barry Ma]

The plan is part of Hong Kong’s pivot towards the so-called Greater Bay Area, which includes parts of Guangdong province that includes Shenzhen, Macau and Hong Kong. It boasts a population of approximately 90 million.

The Northern Metropolis project has been hailed with cautious optimism among conservationists, but more information is needed, they say.

“We understand that the government is economically oriented, but we are focused on what the government can do to protect nature,” said Yu Yat-tung, director of the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society. told Al Jazeera. “Awaiting protection side details.”

The Northern Metropolitan Area’s proposal needs to be more than “words on paper,” Yu added.

“We need to see concrete plans.”

Similarly, Billy CH Howe, lead lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Biological Sciences, said the proposal to protect the wetlands appeared to be a positive move, but that “details on implementation are generally lacking”. rice field.

Howe said it remains to be seen whether the Northern Metropolis plan will actually benefit the wetland system as a whole.

“It’s very difficult to say.”

The Northern Metropolis is envisioned by the government as a hub for the innovation and technology sector, providing space for hundreds of thousands of new residential units.

According to the government, the northern New Territories currently have a population of about 960,000 people with about 390,000 housing units. Hong Kong’s current population is about 7.4 million.

The government says the northern metropolis, when completed, could support a population of 2.5 million in about 20 years, increasing the total number of housing units to 926,000.

Employment in the region will jump from 116,000 to an estimated 650,000. Such growth is expected to put a strain on wetlands, but the government is committed to preserving the region’s biodiversity by integrating rural and urban development while promoting conservation and ecotourism. I promised.

Show a map to the assembled crowd on a big screen showing the Great Bay Area.
The Hong Kong government is working to integrate it with the Greater Bay Area in southern China, home to about 90 million people. [File: Kin Cheung/AP]

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee described the northern metropolis as “Hong Kong’s strategic development stepping stone” in a policy speech in October.

“Many major development projects have already started in the region,” Lee said in his speech, adding that the region will eventually become a “new international I&T city” that promotes business development with sustainable livelihoods. Added.

Lee also pledged to protect the wetlands, stating that the government will “purchase privately owned wetlands and fish ponds of ecological value and promote We will develop a conservation park system.”

Wetlands cover about 5% of Hong Kong’s 1,110 square kilometers (425 square miles), or just over 50 square kilometers (19 square miles), according to government statistics. They provide many benefits to both humans and wildlife by collecting rainfall runoff that helps mitigate climate change, provide food sources, and prevent flooding.

In the northern metropolitan area proposal, the government estimates that the total area of ​​wetlands and coastal protection, including the existing wetland park and Mai Po Nature Reserve, will be about 20 square kilometers.

WWF Hong Kong has managed the nature reserve for almost 40 years under the authority of the Government’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation, which is responsible for the entire 1,540-hectare (3,805-acre) Mai Po Inner Deep Bay Ramsar site.

WWF Hong Kong Wildlife and Wetlands Director Eric Wickramanayake said the Northern Metropolis proposal is expected to be “custom designed” to include the wetlands within the infrastructure.

“We need to work closely with the authorities,” Wickramanayake told Al Jazeera, adding that his organization also serves as a watchdog. “We cannot oppose development at all costs — development must happen — but development must integrate conservation priorities.”

Conservation also helps protect the livelihoods of the workers who depend on the wetlands and their resources, Wickramanayake said.

“We need solutions to feed and shelter people and ensure a stable future,” he said.

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