Hong Kong Wetland Park - wise use of money??

from an email I've just sent a friend, who asked about my concerns re the new Hong Kong Wetland Park: As to wetland park, my concerns somewhat along your lines [my friend had written an email to Oriental birding group, including "Whole generations will be growing up who won't have seen the stars, whose only exposure to greenery will be manicured parks and gardens, often devoid of any wildlife. How can they be expected to protect the wild places and their inhabitants, or to understand how their lifestyles (eating habits, pet keeping, etc) affect the world they live in but can't see?"] - people now less understanding nature, which not good for conservation. Some HK$500 million spent on the wetland park. Only tiddly wetland habitats there; mostly artificial. Then, a bloody great building, with computers, displays of arctic and equatorial wetlands etc etc. Might be all very well if balanced use of resources - which in my view would mean spending on actual wetlands in HK. But not the case. Emphasis, then, on artificial. Meanwhile, just outside the park - yet disconnected (no special footpaths, cycle paths etc) is Deep Bay wetland. Major threats to this; going downhill as result of pollution, siltation. No money to help this; WWF money from govt for Mai Po reduced lately. Just took a guy birding yesterday, inc to small wetland east of Tai Po Market [Shuen Wan]. Part of this already damaged by villagers filling in some - to them, seems of no value. Another part was lagoon with mangroves; but now becoming dry land, with no muddy patches yesterday despite much rain. HK has few such wetlands; others too are threatened or in serious decline; only few are ok (afforded some protection from development, but lack active management). I don't think it's good HK has only one wetland nature reserve. So, to me, not justified to spend so much money on a huge building; instead, would have been better to have a smaller building, and distributed remaining money to actually help Hong Kong wetlands. (Deep Bay a Ramsar site: calls for "wise use" of the wetland. But what about "wise use" of money that's supposedly to help wetland conservation?) Remains to be seen, of course, whether the wetland park proves a success - attracting the projected half million visitors a year, with a proportion becoming concerned about wetland conservation. I'm v doubtful; and don't think emphasis on artificial is the way to go, but instead people need to actually experience wetlands as much as possible - which in Hong Kong could also mean having chance to visit the remaining small wetlands that are scattered around the territory. (Rather as when I was a kid in UK, went to tiny marsh to collect newts, later watching for greenshanks and other migrants at gravel pits. Doing this, rather than interacting with computer, is to me the way to get a real feel for wetlands.)
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Yesterday, I went to the Wetland Park for first time since it fully opened: went as part of day w friends/family.
Found it weird but not wonderful - I plan to do article on it for this site.

Most flabbergasting of all: shark's fin soup on offer in the only restaurant there, run by Cafe de Coral. Seems a bunch of boneheads are in charge! How could anyone at Cafe de C figure this is a suitable dish for a conservation site? How could staff of Wetland Park allow it to happen? - are there no conservationists working at the Park?

[img width=500]http://www.hkoutdoors.com/images/fbfiles/images/wetlandparksharksfin_pos...

I wondered if might be fake - after all, seemed completely ridiculous that could buy shark's fin soup at place with supposed emphasis on wetland conservation.
But Cafe de Coral cheerfully boast about selling shark's fin, on their website:
[quote]Besides our well established menu, Cafˆm de Coral also explores into the realm of the newest tastes. We even introduced luxurious dishes that used to be served only in the most prestigious hotels and high-end dining restaurants, such as our Winter Melon Soup that comes in one-person portion, Shark's Fin Soup[/quote]
[url=http://www.cafedecoralfastfood.com/eng/company/company01.jsp]Cafe de Coral products[/url]

Dear Ms. Cheung Lai Shing, Lucia

RE: Cafe De Coral Premium Ingredients/Wetland Park Menu

I wish to take this opportunity and express my sincere disappointment to note that Cafe De Coral, through its website, advertises the consumption of shark fin as a premium ingredient, and as a main dish at the 'Government' Wetland Park (a place of conservation/education interest). This promotion may appear to be advertised in poor taste and shows zero consideration for the lack of awareness about an issue that has received worldwide media publicity in recent years. The department of AFCD should also be equally ashamed for allowing food outlets to serve such contentious dishes.

It is well-documented that shark fin consumption in Asia is the main contributor of shark declines worldwide. Growing demand for the product has triggered a gold rush to cash in on the high price for shark fins. However, as extremely slow breeders, sharks are unable to cope with the intense fishing pressure. Unlike most fish, that produce millions of eggs at a time over a shorter length of time, shark reproduction is more like that of dolphins and whales. Generally, they do not reach reproductive age until their teens, have very few offspring each time and have amongst the longest gestation period of any family in the entire animal kingdom!

As a result, shark fishing today is an extremely unsustainable industry and has contributed to the disappearance of many shark species in our oceans. Scientists have warned that some species have declined by over 90% and the list of threatened and endangered sharks continues to grow. The disappearance of sharks will also have detrimental knock on effects on other marine species and affect some of the fish stocks that we humans rely on for food.

There is nothing sustainable about shark finning.

Like myself, I believe many people in Hong Kong will feel equally strongly about your promotion as I do and may be reluctant to even visit the Wetland Park. I therefore appeal to Cafe De Coral to change its menu and website advertising as such promotions is counterproductive to the long-term image of Cafe de Coral .

Previous campaigns against Disneyland Hong Kong, Hong Kong Tourism Board, Citibank, MasterCard and Singapore Airlines have all resulted in them withdrawing their shark fin advertising offers, with overwhelming global response being the persuasive factor.

Thank you for your attention, and I hope that you will take this correspondence in the constructive manner that it is intended. I would also be available to speak with your staff at both the Wetland Park and head office about this issue.

Yours Sincerely,
Charles Frew, MSc
Director

Turns out another conservationist had contacted Cafe de Coral re the soup. Received reply inc this:
"Shark's fin soup tea set" is one of the items in our regular menu at Wetland Park branch. The soup is made of vegetarian fin, which is not real fin from shark but a kind of Japanese style imitate shark fin, dried bamboo fungus, shredded imitate abalone and shredded pork. The original product concept is to promote usage of Japanese style imitate shark fin as a substitute to real shark fin. Message of using "Japanese style fin" has been incorporated in the in-store promotion materials during initial stage of product launch to emphasis that the product is not using real shark fin. For the sake of easier communication and to let consumer know that vegetarian fin carry the same texture and taste as real fin, however, we decided to use a commonly recognised name "shark's fin soup" to describe the product in menu. We regret the lack of elaboration in the recent menu about product ingredients caused misunderstanding to some of our customers. To avoid the same incident happen again, we will amend menu wording of related products and wording in the web site so as to ensure a more direct expression on product ingredients can be achieved.
Perhaps appropriate - fake soup, in place with mock mangroves, fake arctic scene, spaceship like theatre... Curiously, the Shark's Fin Soup mentioned on Cafe de Coral website evidently is real shark fin soup.

Here's a letter re the Wetland Park, which I sent to the South China Morning Post. An edited version was published on 21 January.
Dear Sir: I have long had serious misgivings concerning Hong Kong Wetland Park, especially given it reportedly cost around HK$500 million - a huge sum compared to monies spent on conservation in the internationally important Deep Bay wetland, which the park is both within and yet oddly isolated from. Even so, I headed there at the weekend, figuring it might make for an interesting family outing. Indeed it was interesting, yet the visit only confirmed my misgivings, for the Wetland Park is a surreal place, and perhaps could rank as the World's Weirdest Wetland Park. The park supposedly doubles as a centre for conservation and a tourism attraction. Yet my impression is that it's the product of designers with little or no real conservation knowledge, who were given a free reign with an enormous budget. There is an outdoor habitat, with water, but to anyone familiar with nearby Mai Po Marshes, much of this seems almost sterile. Only one lagoon looks to have first rate habitat; two hides gaze towards Deep Bay, over areas outside the park, and with rather few, distant birds. The 10,000 square metre visitor centre is approached by a broad concrete road North Korea might be proud of. Within are exhibits including an artificial mangrove swamp - barely a stone's throw from one of the prime mangrove areas in South China! Parts of the centre seem utterly remote from the outside world, including a theatre like the interior of a spaceship, beside which is a side room with a motion simulator. Strangest of all during my visit, the restaurant menu listed shark's fin soup. This seems astonishing in anywhere with a supposed focus on conservation, especially of wetlands. Yet I have since learned it's fake: appropriate perhaps - in a place with mock mangroves and interiors that seem far from reality, even the restaurant serves a bogus dish. I know the park has reported high visitor numbers, so has been touted a success. But how many of the visitors were overseas tourists? If this number is small, the park is not playing a significant role as a tourism attraction. And if few or none of the visitors become enthused about conservation, the park is failing in this too. In 2004, I held discussions with park planners, expressing misgivings and covering possible measures to nurture ecotourism in the area, and benefit local people. I hope some of these measures can be implemented.
I've included similar info, together with extra material and photos, in an article on this site: Hong">http://www.hkoutdoors.com/new-territories/hk-wetland-park.html]Hong Kong Wetland Park Weird but not Wonderful

I emailed the above letter and link to article to 4 people I'd discussed the park with in 2004 (three email addresses no longer working), including Mr. Edmond Lam, General Manager of the Wetland Park. Edmond replied:
You may wish to know the following for your information. (a) the percentage of overseas visitors (including Mainland China visitors) to HKWP in the second year of operation is about 20%; (b) the HKWP has organized over 8000 educational activities to over 280,000 students and the public ; (c) the HKWP has recorded over 210 species of birds (including ducks, waders, egrets and the globally endangered Black Faced Spoonbill), 40 species of dragonflies, 130 species of butterflies and other wildlife up to end of 2007; and (d) Although the "Shark Fin Soup" provided by the Cafe de Coral for afternoon tea set at the HKWP is a Japanese analogue, Cafe de Coral has already removed it from the menu in their restaurant at the HKWP upon our advise.
I responded:
Thanks for this info. Doesn't address my main points. No indication you are working on ecotourism to benefit the area; nor on making the park at all integrated with Deep Bay. I'd hope there is some sense of shame re woefully misspent money, coupled with strong efforts to spend some more money wisely, as per Ramsar; but doubtful - that's not the way with HK, or indeed with govt spending in many places!
reply from Edmond Lam:
lease be advised that the HKWP maintained regular liaison with stakeholders in tourism industry, HARCO, HK Tourism Board and overseas tourism organizations to promote eco-tourism at HKWP. Workshops and training programmes had also been organized regularly to tour guides, volunteers and students in ecotourism subjects. If you have any constructive suggestion to HKWP, we are glad to listen.
- so I fired off an email with various ideas (resisting nuke the centre to create a big hold that can become a lake!):
I made various suggestions some years ago. Some repeated here; a few are new. For instance, for real ecotourism, should involve local people: people connected with Deep Bay. [Otherwise, the workshops/training programmes etc do not involve anything that justifies being called "ecotourism" - it's easy to use as buzz word, not so simple in practice.] The park is beside yet isolated from Deep Bay. I still believe much could be done to rectify this situation. The shop is terrible. Could, for relatively easy seeming start, have strong range of AFCD/Friends of the Country Parks titles. Also some of the other books on local natural history etc. - could even stock Explore WIld Hong Kong! dvd I co-produced (all monies from sales to Asian Wetland Conservation Fund). Could too try to see if can source any items from the area: gei wai shrimps, fish pond fish etc as foodstuffs (maybe Cafe de Coral could try some dishes w these?) Local veg, esp if organic. Maybe there are some artistic people in the area, who could make things to try selling as souvenirs. Again, such sales would make for something akin to genuine ecotourism. - for ideas, might look to wetland reserves elsewhere. Put nutrients, even if from pollution, into the stream thing; make it not so darn sterile. Work with the fish farmer whose pond one of the main hides overlook: if can give him some money, surely he can do some things to attract birds. Do away with "wetlands" as abstract idea; instead, use situation to tell of Deep Bay - and of other HK wetlands. [Probably too late for this! - that silly river thing at the end, with the rather dull tv reporting - seemed utterly remote from any wetland I've ever been to, let alone Deep Bay. There's no need to tell of pollution affecting abstract wetlands: at Deep Bay, have concrete example; with Shenzhen etc, this is a wetland under more pressure than many in the world.] Arrange trails, maybe cycle ways, to get to other parts of Deep Bay; can perhaps include Mai Po. Tell people of other wetlands in HK, like at Mui Wo, Tai O, Sham Chung etc. Include re problems these face; and encourage people to visit, become ecotourists elsewhere. Arctic exhibit: again, pretentious, and what's the point of caribou, say? Could have stronger HK link: show birds that breed in Arctic, occur in HK. No need, then, for Red-breased Goose, even tho a gorgeous species. De-emphasise snow: arctic winter not relevant for many birds, other than as reason they migrate. Can show colour schemes, eg Curlew Sandpipers etc in spring plumage suited to breeding among lichens. Mangroves: likewise, could do more to tell re HK; garial not right species, but saltwater crocs were maybe native to HK; maybe too we even had dugong (not so sure, but seen possibility of this, long ago). Chinese White Dolphins: estuarine, and not far away; surely worth a mention within the humungous visitor centre. Greatly improve the internal exhibits with HK species; or even do away with them if poor - small tanks w sorry looking creatures not too good (weren't the fiddler crabs on pebbles?). Dioramas would be ok; and again, not abstract, but show some real places, show how they are eyed by would-be golf course developers etc. Is the land on left, immediately as enter the park, also part of the park's area? If so, create a lagoon like the "mudflat", but viewable from outside - so seems like really heading towards a wetland park. Less pretentious muzak; there's no need for New Age boring music. Add sounds from HK wetlands; and yes, maybe inc pile drivers. The make-your-own-music thingies had utterly wrong sounds for some species, eg redshank. Don't know why, other than the design team knowing nothing about wildlife and wetlands. Tell people of the Ping Shan Heritage Trail: easily combined with visit to the park. (We combined; I liked the trail.) Well, there we are - quite a list. But I'm no big bureaucrat, nor a fancy company consultant from half way round the world (I've done env consultancy work for the World Bank, but when Wetland Park planned seemed local expertise wasn't important [I helped a little w filming videos; doing so, had to work fairly hard just to get list of species that actually belong to different wetlands]) - so I've no real hope anything will change. Yet, for income and expenditure to come closer to balancing, for dyed in the wool local conservationists to have a positive opinion of the park and the use of money, changes of some kind surely needed.
I've also come across info from Ming Pao, May 2007, inc:
About 1.2 million visitors visited the 1-yr-old Wetland Park in the last yr. The 20 million revenue covered about 70% of their expense.
- so even though visitor numbers high, above expectations, revenue significantly below expenditure: hardly seems so good for tourism! Prompt reply to my email w ideas:
Thanks a lot, we will look into your suggestion.