WATCHING THE FLOCKS of black-faced spoonbills that frequent the drained gei wai; observing the skilled fisherman; seeing the ospreys plunging into the waters to hunt fish; and catching sight of the Eurasian otters dodging behind the bushes in the wetland: spending a day Mai Po wetlands is an exciting and profound experience.
It is extraordinary to witness such rich biodiversity in one of the most urbanised and densely populated metropolises in the world.
Hong Kong is renowned as a top-notch international financial centre, a logistics hub in the region, and home to over 7.4 million people—so few people might expect the biodiversity to be diverse or abundant. And if one did, one might think the wildlife would only be found in the 24 Country Parks and 22 Special Areas protected under the comprehensive statutes of Hong Kong Law. However, the impressively rich biodiversity can be found in about three-quarters of Hong Kong’s 1,104 square kilometres of land filled with mountain ranges, woodlands, open grasslands, wetlands, rocky foreshores and sandy beaches. These scenic but distinct landscapes offer habitats for thousands of wildlife species in the city.
JUST COUNT THEM
Hikers on the 100-kilometre MacLehose Trail can find approximately 3,300 species and varieties of vascular plants, encounter 35,000 fungal species, and discover 33,000 invertebrate species, of which some 16,000 are insects. Camping at the Long Ke Wan campsite by the beach and taking a dive in the sea, one could be joined by over 1,400 species of fish and discover more than 260 seaweed species as well as over 150 species of coral while watching in excess of 560 bird species, representing one-third of the total number of species recorded in China.
Few places like Hong Kong in the world allow people to travel from the city centre to the heart of a world-class country park in an hour or less. In this regard, Hong Kong has a head start over other international cities.
While about 40 per cent of the land in Hong Kong is designated as country parks and nature reserves, housing over 74,000 kinds of non-microbial organisms, our neighbour Singapore has only set aside about 10 per cent of their land for parks and nature reserves, with some 40,000 species of organisms. Looking further west, natural areas in New York City fall shy of the ones in Hong Kong. Around 80 sq kilometres of the 780 sq kilometres are natural areas in New York City, housing around 7,000 species of plants and animals. Fortunately, Hong Kong is blessed with the gift of ample greenery and rich ecological diversity.
Global challenges such as climate change posing risks to nature everywhere, and the biodiversity in Hong Kong is no exception. In response, the Hong Kong Government started its first city-level Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP) in 2016. It formulated detailed measures to step up biodiversity conservation and support sustainable development. The BSAP delivered solid achievements in enhancing conservation measures to protect the biodiversity in Hong Kong. Government-led initiatives provide foundations and directions to protecting nature and the biodiversity embedded within.
MORE USE OF PARKS
Biodiversity is inextricably linked to human well-being, while nature and wildlife contribute significantly to the quality of our urban environment. With the ongoing rampage of the pandemic, more people will continue to halt their overseas travel plans and resort to our accessible country parks for leisure. Nonetheless, having more people visiting our countryside would not help retain the biodiversity of Hong Kong, and neither is demarcating more no-man’s land a feasible solution. Proper education for all walks of the public is the key to safeguarding biodiversity. The more we interact with the natural environment, the more appreciation we will have, which transforms into a driving force to defend and promote the biodiversity in Hong Kong.
CO-OPERATION ACROSS GBA
Hong Kong has been the home to many migratory birds seeking temporary homes and food in Mai Po and other wetlands. The survival of these birds is strongly dependent upon the continued preservation and security of their main breeding grounds and the availability of unpolluted coastal wetlands in the Pearl River Delta abundant with food in their known wintering range.
Similar to the protection of these migratory birds, the conservation of the biodiversity of Hong Kong depends on the concerted effort among the Hong Kong people and local and regional governments. With the onset of the Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Hong Kong Government should fully cooperate with Guangdong and Macao, with the support of the Central People’s Government, to vigorously take forward ecological conservation and create synergy in protecting the biodiversity in the region.
Andrew Lam is a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council
Image at the top shows Hong Kong newt by Thomas Brown/ Flickr