Hong Kong Countryside Needs You!

You’ve surely seen news of the plastic pellets spill, which happened as six container loads of plastic pellets were tossed off a freighter during Typhoon Vicente on the night of 23 July. Maybe you’re among the thousands of people who have taken part in the many beach cleanups in response to the spill.

            Though the pellet spill itself is surely not a disaster for Hong Kong’s marine environment – which already suffers greatly from chemical pollution, dredging, over-fishing, reclamation projects and an unrelenting onslaught by plastic debris – the response seems of huge significance. I’ve been astonished to see and read of so many people coming out to fill bags with pellets and other waste, as well as sift through sand to pick out pellets. This response is unprecedented, and may prove a milestone in environmental protection in Hong Kong.

            I’ve been in Hong Kong 25 years, and always been strongly interested and involved in local conservation. Over the years, I’ve witnessed environmental changes for the worse, especially at sea; but also noted a great change in people’s attitudes to our natural environment, and willingness to support conservation.

            I remember that as I arrived in the late 1980s, there were commentaries indicating that many Hong Kong people were only recently coming to regard Hong Kong as their home – instead of a place they passed through on the way from mainland China to a life overseas. There was nature conservation, but it was mostly “high level”, such as initiated by the government, and WWF Hong Kong managing Mai Po Marshes Nature Reserve, and with no great grassroots participation that I recall.

            During the 1990s, there was news of potential development work that could threaten Ham Tin, at Tai Long Wan, Sai Kung. This prompted an initiative by Friends of the Earth, which prepared a statement with signatures from several green groups and concerned individuals – helping lead to the Town Planning Board establishing a Development Permission Area, effectively halting whatever the potential development may have been.

            Also at the end of the 1990s and early last decade, the KCRC planned to build the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line across Long Valley, Hong Kong’s last and largest agricultural wetland. Yet Long Valley is excellent for birds, including species that are rare in Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society spearheaded a campaign to protect the site. This included courtroom “battles”, and attracted considerable media attention – leading to extensive public support for protecting Long Valley and its birdlife, even though most people had never been there. Eventually, the KCRC relented, and built a tunnel beneath Long Valley, which survives today, albeit its future is not secure.

            Hong Kong people’s interest and participation in conservation has increased since the Long Valley case.

            This column is arranged by the Lung Fu Shan Environmental Concern Group, a small but active group that has focused on threats to Victoria Peak and nearby, including Lung Fu Shan. Chairwoman Vivian Leung Tai Yuet-kam proudly tells of the group gaining widespread public support that has helped prevent hillside paths being despoiled by over 1000 metres of unnecessary railings.

            Living on Cheung Chau, I have become heavily involved in opposing the government’s plans to build an artificial island with gigantic waste incinerator beside neighbouring Shek Kwu Chau. In this case, too, citizens’ action has been crucial in raising some public awareness of the issue, and in helping prompt the Legislative Council’s Panel on Environmental Affairs to vote against the project.

            Yet this vote may not mean an end to the incinerator, just as protecting a site one day may not keep it safe for long. In summer 2010 came reports of a development project damaging Tai Long Wan, this time at Sai Wan, south of Ham Tin. A Facebook group on protecting Sai Wan was started, and within a week attracted over 65,000 members. This plus protest hikes generated media interest, and prompted the government to act in order to stop the development. “We helped wake up a giant,” said Wayne Yim, founder of the Facebook group. “The quiet majority of Hong Kong people have shown they will no longer stand by and let developers take away their core assets.”

            Now, there are more Facebook groups and pages dedicated to helping protect sites ranging from Po Toi to Shalotung and Lantau Island. Members of a website, HKWildlife.Net, are playing an active role in trying to protect the shoreline at Lung Mei, near Tai Mei Tuk. They have helped boost awareness and support for this site, to perhaps save it from a fate as a bathing beach.

            As grassroots support for conservation builds – and is surely now ahead of the government, and especially developers who too often seem out of touch with our changing society – the Lung Fu Shan Environmental Concern Group is itself changing, to become the Alliance for a Beautiful Hong Kong, and with greater opportunities for Hongkongers’ involvement.

            Perhaps you will get involved in the new alliance; I hope so! But remember there are a myriad ways you can make a difference, from a simple Like for a Facebook page, to getting out to clean up pellets, join protests, help spread awareness ­– and show you care about Hong Kong, our home.

This is the original English draft of an opinion piece, which was published in Ming Pao Weekly on 8 September 2012.

Links include:

HKWildlife.Net

Martin Williams
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Martin Williams's picture

衛林士 [Martin Williams]

你必定看過新聞,知道7月23日颱風韋森特襲港後,六個盛滿膠粒的貨櫃墮海,造成膠粒散落海面的事件。也許你是獲悉事件後,數以千計自發前往多個海灘,協助清理膠粒的其中一人。
    或許膠粒事件對香港的海洋來說並非香港海洋環境的災難––因為本港海域早已飽受化學品污染、拖網與過度捕魚、填海工程和塑膠垃圾的無情侵害;但是事件所引起的公眾迴響,卻有著重大意義。看到和讀到這麼多人挺身而出,拾起一袋袋的膠粒和其他垃圾,又用心篩走海灘上的沙粒,令我既訝異又感動。畢竟,這種回響是前所未見的,甚至可證明是香港環保史上一個重要的里程碑。
    我在香港已住上25年,一直對本地保育深感興趣,亦踴躍參與其中。多年以來,我見證到環境變得越來越差,特別是海洋方面;同時,我亦發現公眾越來越重視大自然環境,也越來越願意支持保育。
    記得在1980年代末來到香港時,有評論指很多香港人在不久以前才開始視香港為自己的家,而不是一個由中國內地移居海外的踏板。當年已有保育自然的活動,但大都只屬「高層次」,好像由政府發起的計劃,還有由世界自然基金會管理的米埔沼澤和自然保護區。印像之中,那時民間並沒有來大力參與。
    到了1990年代,有報導指西貢大浪灣的鹹田有可能開展工程項目。地球之友隨即發起行動,準備好聲明、收集來自數個綠色團體和關注事件人士的簽名。行動最後有助促成城市規劃委員會把鹹田納入發展審批地區,,有效叫停了那個不管為何的發展計劃。
    同樣是在1990年代末、千禧年代初, 九廣鐵路公司計劃興建落馬州支線、鐵路將橫誇香港最後一個,而且面積最大的農業濕地塱原。塱原是雀鳥的天堂,不少在香港罕見的品種也會飛經此處。香港觀鳥會帶頭發起保護塱原的行動,包括數場法庭「大戰」,引起了傳媒注意。即使大部份人其實沒有踏足過塱原,但行動卻喚起了公眾對保護塱原和該地雀鳥生態的廣泛支持。最後,九廣鐵路公司「大發慈悲」,改為在塱原地下建設隧道,令濕地得以保留至今,至於未來能否受到保障則尚是未知之數。
    自塱原事件後,香港人對於保育的興趣和參與均有增加。
    這個專欄是由龍虎山自然面貌關注組安排的,我們是一個活躍的小型組織,專注於對太平山和附近環境(包括龍虎山)構成威脅的事宜。小組的努力,嬴得更廣泛的公眾支持,並幫助避免太平山山邊小徑加入沒必要存在、逾1,000米長的圍欄建成,對此,組織主席梁戴月琴感到非常自豪。
    作為長洲的島民,對於政府打算在長洲附近的石鼓州興建人工島和巨型廢物焚化爐的計劃,我是大表反對的,也積極參與了反對計劃的活動。市民對此事的行動,不但提高了公眾對事件的關注,也有助提醒立法會環境事務委員會投票反對項目。
    這一票其實並不代表焚化爐計劃就此告終,正如今天能保護一個地點,亦難保它會永遠安全一樣。在2010年夏季,便有報導指有工程項目正破壞大浪灣,這次發生在鹹田灣以南的西灣。一個保護西灣的Facebook群組隨即成立,並在短一星期內吸引了65,000人加入。這項行動連同多次示威,引起了媒體的關注,亦提醒政府應採取行動停止發展。該Facebook群組的發起人Wayne Yim表示:「我們喚醒了沉睡的巨人,香港人沉默的大多數終於都站出來,表達自己不會再坐視不理,任由發展商肆意取走屬於香港的核心資產。」
    現時,已有越來越多Facebook 群組和網頁為幫助保護各區自然地點而成立,包括蒲台島、沙螺洞和大嶼山等。網站HKWildlife.Net的成員,在保護位於大尾篤附近的龍尾亦擔演著十分主動的角色。他們幫助提高公眾對這個地點的認識和支持,也許能夠拯救這個地方,避免它成為人工泳灘的命運。
    民間對環境保育的支持與日俱增,步伐至今已肯定較政府更快,更比似乎永遠無法追上社會轉變的發展商快得多。龍虎山環境關注組本身亦在轉變中,我們將成為「美港聯盟」,希望讓香港人一同參與。
    或許你會加入新的聯盟,我希望你會!但不要忘記你可以透過許多不同的方法令事情變得不一樣,由簡單地在Facebook網頁按讚,以至坐言起行幫助清理膠粒,甚至參加示威行動、協助傳播保育意識,你都可以表達你對香港這個家的關懷。

Published in Ming Pao Weekly on 8 September 2012.

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