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.
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 Kong Wetland Park Weird but not Wonderful