Hong Kong, China – Barry Ma friends by way of the lens of his high-powered telescope and raises his arm as he factors in pleasure.
“Right here!” he says in a hushed voice. “Look right here.”
Ma has noticed a pair of little grebes — a duck-like fowl, 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 Vast Fund for Nature Hong Kong (WWF-Hong Kong), Ma is main a small group of tourists by way of the Mai Po Nature Reserve underneath a vivid solar on a damp morning.
He identifies quite a lot of 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.
However his enthusiasm is tempered by an unsure future for the wetlands, that are additionally residence to frogs, fiddler crabs, pangolins, water buffalos — even a handful of Eurasian otters, an elusive nocturnal mammal.
Urbanisation is coming to the wetlands, and it stays to be seen whether or not the realm’s biodiversity can proceed to thrive together with human growth.
The Hong Kong authorities, nominally semi-autonomous from Beijing underneath a system often known as “one nation, two methods”, has acknowledged the significance of defending the wetlands and has laid out proposals to protect their biodiversity. On the identical time, officers and the enterprise neighborhood are dedicated to increasing the town’s integration with southern China.
For a glimpse of what’s to come back, 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 essential 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 largely rural space right into a sprawling residential and enterprise neighborhood that may additional tighten its hyperlink with Shenzhen, an essential expertise hub that’s residence to such corporations as Tencent, Huawei and DJI.
The plan is a part of Hong Kong’s pivot in the direction of the so-called Higher Bay Space, which encompasses elements of Guangdong Province, together with Shenzhen, in addition to Macau and Hong Kong. It boasts a inhabitants of almost 90 million.
The Northern Metropolis plan has been welcomed with cautious optimism amongst conservationists, however they are saying extra particulars are wanted.
“We perceive that governments are economic-oriented, however we give attention to what they will do on nature conservation,” Yu Yat-tung, director of the Hong Kong Hen Watching Society, informed Al Jazeera. “We’re ready for extra particulars on the conservation aspect.”
The Northern Metropolis proposal must be greater than “phrases on paper,” Yu added.
“We have to see a concrete plan.”
Equally, Billy CH Hau, principal lecturer within the Faculty of Organic Sciences on the College of Hong Kong, mentioned the proposal to guard the wetlands seems to be a optimistic transfer, however “there’s a normal lack of particulars on the implementation”.
Whether or not the Northern Metropolis plan will really profit the general wetlands system stays to be seen, Hau mentioned.
“It’s very tough to say.”
The Northern Metropolis is envisioned by the federal government as a centre for the innovation and expertise sectors, and can present area for a whole lot of 1000’s of recent housing models.
The present inhabitants within the northern New Territories stands at roughly 960,000, with about 390,000 residential models, in response to the federal government. Hong Kong’s present inhabitants is about 7.4 million.
The federal government says that when the Northern Metropolis is accomplished, in about 20 years, it may probably help a inhabitants of two.5 million and enhance whole housing to 926,000 models.
Jobs within the area would leap to an estimated 650,000 from 116,000. Whereas such development is predicted to place a pressure on the wetlands, the federal government has promised to protect the realm’s biodiversity by integrating rural and concrete growth whereas selling conservation and ecotourism.
Hong Kong Chief Government John Lee, the town’s chief, described the Northern Metropolis as “the foothold for Hong Kong’s strategic growth” in his coverage tackle in October.
“Numerous main growth initiatives within the space have already commenced,” Lee mentioned in his speech, including that the area will finally be a “new worldwide I&T metropolis” that may promote enterprise growth with sustainable dwelling.
Lee additionally promised to guard the wetlands, saying that the federal government would purchase privately-owned wetlands and fish ponds “with ecological worth and develop a wetland conservation parks system, with a view to growing the environmental capability for the event of the Northern Metropolis”.
Wetlands occupy roughly 5 p.c — simply greater than 50 sq. kilometres (19 sq. miles) — of Hong Kong’s 1,110sq km (425sq miles), in response to authorities statistics. They supply 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 stop flooding.
In its Northern Metropolis proposal, the federal government has estimated that the full space for wetlands and coastal conservation could 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 almost 40 years underneath the authority of the federal government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Division, which itself is accountable for all the 1,540-hectare (3,805-acre) Mai Po Inside Deep Bay Ramsar Website.
Eric Wikramanayake, director of wildlife and wetlands at WWF-Hong Kong, mentioned the proposal for the Northern Metropolis is predicted to be “customized” to incorporate the wetlands inside the infrastructure.
“We have to work carefully with the authorities,” Wikramanayake informed Al Jazeera, including that his organisation additionally serves as a watchdog. “We can’t oppose growth in any respect prices — growth has to occur — however growth has to combine conservation priorities.”
Conservation additionally helps to protect the livelihoods of staff who depend upon the wetlands and its assets, Wikramanayake mentioned.
“There needs to be options to make sure that persons are fed and housed and have a steady future,” he mentioned.