Sustainable Lantau Office zero achievements for nature conservation

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    The Sustainable Lantau Office under the Civil Engineering and Development Department was established on 1 December 2017, and is supposedly ‘dedicated to the overarching principle of “Development in the North, Conservation for the South” embraced in the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint promulgated in 2017’.

    Yet really, it has achieved nothing whatsoever regarding nature conservation; instead, in the months since, there has been more habitat destruction in south Lantau.

    Here, a little correspondence I’ve had with the office.

    13 August, from me:

    It’s been almost nine months since the Sustainable Lantau Office was established.
    Just writing to ask if you have achieved anything; is anywhere on Lantau now in better shape than when the office was established on 1 Dec 2017?
    You have written to me of a study; but studies are all too easy – even before this study, we all knew regarding key sites, problems, action needed.
    In which case, studies can be like filibustering in a government meeting – talk talk and talk, while procrastinating about actually doing anything important.
    You asked for my ideas; I kindly sent a plan for actually doing something positive at Pui O, rather than staying in office and commissioning a study.
    No word of anything happening. Re-attached here.
    Lately, you have seen more destruction, with small scale development planned to follow, at Cheung Sha.
    So, I wonder, has the Sustainable Lantau Office achieved anything worthwhile?
    And if not, what is the point of the office? 
    Is it just for window dressing, to make it look as if there is official support for sustainable Lantau, even though no action to follow?

    30 August, email to a few people including me:

    Thank you for the email and proposals from Dr. Martin Williams.  Also noting the emails of Paul, Martin Lerigo and Dr Yam, I would like to take this opportunity for a reply to all please. 

    We fully understand that the general public would wish to see concrete result of our conservation works immediately, instead of waiting for the study findings.  We would like to stress that our studies are necessary.  For example, the Ecological Study is conducted on the request of many stakeholders including LegCo members and green groups with the view to establishing a baseline for subsequent monitoring and identification of conservation works required. We follow the established practice to conduct a 12-month survey for a comprehensive baseline on the ecological values of the priority sites at Pui O, Shui Hau and Tai O.  With such in hand, the importance of different habitats could be objectively determined and conservation measures could be well substantiated.  As for the habitat enhancement works suggested by Dr. Martine Williams, our consultants will take on board suitability when formulating the overall conservation measures for Pui O.   

    We acknowledge that many conservation resources in Lantau are under private ownership.  We have made it clear under various occasions  that South Lantau is for conservation where no major development would be allowed.  At the same time, suitable promotion and education could benefit the public and local business, bring out a win-win situation.  In this sense, we agree with Dr. Williams that nature tourism is a way forward to engage the owners and share the natural resources with the community for public enjoyment. 

    Along this line, we have recently disseminated the Tai O Leisure and Recreation Plan to the public (via our webpage, at Tung Chung MTR Station, Tung Chung Development Pier and Tai O Pier as well as in the ferry to Tai O) together with the launching of additional ferry services from Tung Chung to Tai O during weekends and public holidays.  We prepare and promulgate the plan in tandem with the improved ferry services with the view, not just to providing the visitors with better information about the culture, heritage and natural environment of Tai O, but also to encouraging visitors touring off-centre within Tai O so to address the overcrowded situation, as well as to reminding them a respectful attitude towards the tranquility of the village.  Similar plans for other areas would be prepared one by one, where Pui O is one of the targeted sites.  This would help promote public knowledge and awareness on the conservation resources of the areas and be conducive to nature tourism and local economy. 

    As for the database on land filling and fly-tipping of construction materials, the Government gets hold of such database and has established an inter-departmental coordination mechanism in 2008, under the coordination of the Environmental Protection Department. To tackle environmental vandalism in Lantau, which has been at top of our agenda, we keep on exploring with relevant bureaux and departments all possible measures, not confining to those under the existing mechanism.  We target, not just to tackle environmental vandalism, but to achieve sustainable conservation of Lantau.  Therefore, we carry out our works in a multi-front approach towards the directions of promoting community education, enhancing protection and control, and facilitating public enjoyment.  The conservation works we shared with Dr. Yam in our earlier email below are all geared towards such end. 

    Lastly, within the Government system with established mechanism of the legal and administrative practices by relevant bureaux and departments.  It is an essential step to thoroughly explore ideas and options in something “out of the box” is to be achieved.  Until we could come up with something practical and agreeable by responsible bureaux and departments, we wish you could understand that we are not able to advise you our “work plan” in further details as it involves lots of internal Government procedures and liaisons.  It is also the responsibility of the Government to avoid causing confusion to or unnecessary expectation from different stakeholders, including not only green groups, but also local communities and the public. That said, we will suitably make it known to the public should there be more concrete progress.

    I sent yesterday:

    Thanks for the emails; I did receive them, just been slow to respond.
    So in essence: you have done nothing to actually protect any areas of note for nature on Lantau.
    You write of studies etc being necessary.
    Yet you did not start at “year zero”, with no information known: the government has been aware for years that the “Coastal Protection Area” is a joke, and need proper legislation.
    Likewise we knew a lot regarding important places for wildlife, threats faced.
    The “snapshot” is appalling regarding natural environment. “Improvement” at Mui Wo and Tai O excludes biodiversity; nothing of the wetlands there, or the woodlands, no recognition of the tree felling that has lately occurred. [or of the tree planting near Mui Wo]. 
    Nothing of the problems; just by a bunch of people who really don’t know, don’t care.
    In my view, if you mainly engineers in the “Sustainable” Lantau Office had been put in charge of a hospital – something for which you are perhaps just as qualified … – you would still have patients in the waiting room, with nobody treating wounds, mending broken bones etc, while you have other people doing study after study, passing bits of paper around between departments etc. 
    A zealous birder friend has just abandoned Pui O as his “local patch”, as a result of the habitat destruction there – which is indeed appalling, and has continued since the Office started messing about with reports, snapshots, procrastinating and filibustering.
    I went to Pui O on Sunday; there were a few birds including a Yellow-breasted Bunting – which as you know is a Critically Endangered species worldwide. [the previous weekend I’d seen three at Yi O]
    – but to me terribly sad to see the wanton destruction, it seems resulting from combination of greed and government couldn’t care less attitude. 
    Well, I don’t know about you and colleagues having families.
    But as the natural world goes downhill, you were tasked with supposedly helping halt and even reverse the declines in a small yet wonderful part of it.
    So what will you say to your children, grandchildren, if and when they asked what you did to benefit Lantau?
    – I guess that even if it is decades later, you will answer that studies are still underway, there are procedures blah blah blah blah. 

    Today, another from me, following news re wildlife populations in freefall worldwide:

    You may feel unhappy at being pilloried for doing nothing substantial for nature conservation on Lantau; 
    maybe it seems okay for you and colleagues to take your juicy salaries, play a role akin to green window dressing for the made concreting plans of Gordon Wu and others.
    Yet issues are not restricted to Lantau, as you might read in news today.
    On the face of it, you have an opportunity to do some good, achieve a little “sustainability” rather than have this as some mindless phony buzzword.
    Well, my wife says it’s useless even trying with people like you. But I do; I actually care, know we humans can do better, so pitiful for failing like this.
    Engineers, too, need air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat etc; and likely have children, hopes for future generations.
    Even engineers cannot live by concrete and money alone!
    Anyway, you’ll have seen this news today; Guardian usually good for coverage like this.

    Humanity has wiped out 60% of animals since 1970, major report finds

    The huge loss is a tragedy in itself but also threatens the survival of civilisation, say the world’s leading scientists



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