More than 80 volunteer workers removed at least 5 tonnes of rubbish from remote Shap Long Beach yesterday. The cleanup was organised by Beyond Plastic.
A volunteer, Marcus Turner, said the trash collected included “everything from plastic packaging, polystyrene and microplastics to discarded fishing nets, steel oil drums, large plastic storage drums, abandoned kayaks etc.”
“The volunteers came from all from all over Hong Kong. Many of the volunteers who attend the clean-ups on a regular basis are Filipino and Indonesian helpers who spend their one day off a week doing this,” he said.
“You can see the beach looks a lot cleaner but there are still a lot of microplastics there and more rubbish that will accumulate, so it is a never ending process.”
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Want to run or hike the hills of Lantau and promote conservation at the same time?
Hong Kongers have that chance next month with the first UTML – aka Ur Trail du Mont-Lantau – offering nine different events ranging from a 2km walk to a 100km endurance race.
Organisers Ms So and Ms Chung say they took the idea from the famed UTMB around Mont Blanc, the world’s biggest trail race.
Ms So said with the government pushing ahead with the Lantau Tomorrow reclamation, “we wanted to hold an event to encourage people to hike the hills and forests to save Lantau.”
The UTML comprises nine different races, starting with a 2km road walk around Tung Chung, moving up to 10km -16km courses for regular hikers, and then three ultra-trail routes 50km, 60km and 100km in length.
The other twist on the UTML is it’s a virtual event. It will run for all of November and people can complete their chosen course in their own time.
“You go to Lantau, you pick one of the routes that we provide, and then you finish the trail,” said Ms So.
“Then you get the GPS record through a smartphone app, Strava, Polar, or Garmin etc, and you can screencap it and share it, along with photos taken along the route.”
The hashtags are #HKUTML #and IloveLantau.
Ms So said that apart from promoting the preservation of Lantau, she hopes to help bring together people with similar views.
“It’s about community building. This belongs to everyone who loves Hong Kong and loves Lantau.”
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Tong Fuk has become the latest Lantau village to suffer from unauthorised land clearance, a result of the vague planning laws and lack of enforcement that have plagued the rest of the island.
In the last three years, reclamation work has claimed hundreds of square metres of greenbelt between Tong Fuk village and the oceanfront, HK01 has reported.
The original work created a car park but has continued well into the adjacent green space, a cattle habitat and recreation area that also hosts the annual poon choi banquet.
The reclamation intrudes onto government land but the developers have ignored Lands Department warnings to halt work.
As with the rapidly-disappearing Pui O wetland, the entire zone between South Lantau Road and the beachfront is designated Coastal Protection Area (CPA) – but no planning or environmental laws exist to provide any actual protection.
Local conservation group Save Lantau Alliance wrote to the Sustainable Lantau Office and other departments about the unauthorised development, HK01 reported.
The Planning Department confirmed that the site is zoned CPA, which means any land filling or development work requires permission from the Town Planning Board (TPB). It said no development application for a car park or landfill had been received.
But planning agencies exercise their powers through the development approval process, which has never covered Tong Fuk or other villages on South Lantau Road, so they have no power to influence or stop any development.
As the Planning Dept said: “There is no regulatory authority there.”
The private-held portion of land belongs to a Mui Wo-registered company called Yuky Co. Ltd (耀崎有限公司), according to HK01.
A 1980s court case involving the late Heung Yee Kuk strongman Lau Wongfat found that the government cannot enforce planning laws on privately-held agricultural land.
Lantau activists have slammed government officials over their failure to stop the continued destruction of the Pui O wetlands.
Ham Tin resident Martin Lerigo, who has led a campaign to save the vanishing wetlands for five years, has warned that they are “close to unviable.”
In a letter to the Sustainable Lantau Office (SLO), he said “vandalism continues unabated with seemingly little interest” from government officials.
Since officials last visited four months ago “there has been considerable further damage to the Pui O wetlands including multiple areas of fencing off, including across streams and mangroves,” he wrote.
“The wetlands are now close to being unviable as a home to the unique water buffaloes of Hong Kong, much loved by local people and visitors alike.”
The SLO was formed in 2017 as part of the government’s push to develop Lantau. Despite its name, it is a unit of the CEDD, staffed mostly by civil engineers.
It is responsible for carrying out the government’s conservation policies as well as development, but has few staff with environmental expertise.
Another resident, Tom Yam of Mui Wo, says the SLO’s conservation efforts have been “an abject failure, with more pristine wetland damaged and no damaged land recovered.”
The agency has set “no specific results or deliverables,” and has “no management plan that holds individuals and organisation accountable,” he said.
“It makes a mockery of your claim to ‘conserve the south and develop the north’ in Lantau. We only see development in the north and degradation in the south.”
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has vowed on multiple occasions to protect the Pui O wetlands, the city’s last major remaining buffalo habitat, but has yet to enact any new policies.
She has promised but not delivered a HK$1 billion Lantau Conservation Fund.
Lerigo asked if the office had taken any action to halt CLP’s connection of electricity supply to illegal structures. “This is a key driver of the environmental vandalism.”
He pointed out that a removal notice had been issued on an illegally-developed site seen by SLO officials on their most recent visit , yet “fencing is still there and has been expanded.”
Lerigo also asked:
- If the SLO had taken any action to increase the level of conservation expertise. “Only four out of the SLO’s 111 staff have any professional expertise in conservation matters.”
- If any progress had been made in setting up the Lantau Conservation Fund
- The status of its proposal to use resumption or a managed scheme as a solution
Fung Siu Yin is the challenger in Sunday’s district council poll and a part of a new face in local politics.
Standing for the Lantau seat, she is pro-democratic, green and a member of a new group called Islands Connect, which is ensuring that for the first time democrats contest seats in all four islands in the district.
Fung, 33, has lived in Tung Chung for 20 years. She has worked as a Legco research assistant for the past eight years, and is currently on Eddie Chu Hoi-dick’s staff.
She opposes Lantau Tomorrow Vision, which she says has had scant scrutiny from the council. If elected she would call public hearings across Lantau to debate the project.
She has also done a good deal of work on public transport issues, finding that South Lantau residents object to the Sunday fare hikes and want to see more frequent services of both bus and ferry.
Having spent her early career working on senior and social welfare issues, she also advocates expanding community centres and medical services for the elderly and wants to set aside land for a retiree-run community farm.
The vacant Mui Wo high school, the wetlands and the Mui Wo improvement works are also high on her agenda.
Here is a condensed version of Lantau News’ interview with Siu Yin.
Why are you running for District Council?
I have lived in Tung Chung for about 20 years. In 2014 I knew we had big developments coming into Lantau. From that we tried to have some education and oral history documentation to tell people what would happen.
In 2018, the Lantau Tomorrow Vision was announced. In those four years, I had learnt more about Lantau people, and we know more about their needs. There were many problems with elderly citizens, and some education needs.
In our group, Save Lantau Alliance, we discussed the elections and we wanted to have a role, to have more debate in the community to talk about what we want for Lantau’s future. That’s why we are running for election this year.
How do you see the role of the district council?
They get a lot of information from the government, and the government often consults with them on education, bus services, medical services, etc.
The councillors also can vote for the chief executive and one of them can be elected to Legco. They can meet with different government departments, they can share their ideas. They have many ways to work with the government.
You talk about reforming the district council. What would you do?
The Islands District Council has 18 members, including eight ex officio. So many people don’t have a voice. So we want to open a platform. We want the residents in the Lantau community, who care about the community, they can voice out.
For example, the bus company wanted to increase bus fares. They just informed the district council but most Lantau people didn’t know. In May we did a street survey. We found more than 68% of people didn’t know the bus company was applying to increase the fare.
We will have social media channels, like Facebook or WhatsApp. Give people many channels to share their opinions. We think if the district councils are working, then there will be less anger in the community.
Can district councils do anything to address the current political crisis?
We can open many forums to discuss what people are ask for. Is it reasonable or not reasonable, what is the meaning of the five demands, and so on. Because now you are blue, I am yellow, we are totally divided into two colours and we don’t want to talk to each other. It’s not a healthy relationship.
Lantau Tomorrow Vision is a huge project and the government seems determined to build it. What can you do in the district council?
If we can get to District Council, we will have an agenda item to discuss Lantau Tomorrow Vision. We want to have a public hearing. It’s not local to Central, so we will have public hearings in Lantau – in Mui Wo, Tai O, and so on, and we can hear people’s opinions.
How to help Lantau’s senior population?
Lantau has a population of about 24,000, of which about 7,000-8,000 are over 50. But we have just one elderly home in Mui Wo. Two years ago, the home in Tai O closed.
The medical system is very important for them. We have just two clinics, with a limited service level, in Mui Wo and Tai O. It’s not enough. Also in Mui Wo the population has risen to more than 6,000. That’s why we ask the clinic employ two doctors, now just one.
We ask for community support service for the elderly. Some of them need help in cooking and cleaning, so they can live in their homes. We would like to set up community care services where they go to people’s homes, help cook and clean.
We also need community centres for the elderly, where they can read newspapers, sing together, have some health checks.
Right now we have a small centre in Mui Wo. In Tai O – nothing. In South Lantau – zero. NGOs provide services from Tung Chung, but that’s not reasonable. So that is why we hope to have centres in South Lantau and Tai O.
Also, elderly people feel bored. They say they would like to have a community garden. They know how to farm. They can raise chickens; chickens can eat waste food that humans won’t eat.
They can provide value in return – food, recycling, education for young people as well. So they become teachers. It’s more positive, right?
What is the status of the Mui Wo school?
The school [the New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School] has been closed for 12 years. We want to re-use the school for the elderly services, medical service and also education services – for kindergarten, primary school – so it is not wasted.
In the last few months we have had communication with the residents. Many of the Mui Wo kids are under six years old. They are going to Tai O, Tung Chung or Tsuen Wan for kindergarten. We see here is a need in the community. We have an empty school – it’s a perfect match.
You have done some work on public transport issues. What have you found?
Two months ago we did a survey and held a forum.
For buses, the most important thing people are concerned about is service frequency. People also worry about the safety of the double decker buses. On the upper deck most of them don’t have seat belts. There’s no room for luggage upstairs, either, so they have to put their suitcases in the aisle. It’s dangerous.
For both bus and ferry, people want to cancel the extra charge for public holidays and Sundays. They think it’s not reasonable.
The government gives subsidies to ferry companies. We want to improve transparency and open up the financials of the ferry companies so we know how they are spending the subsidies.
People also care about frequency. We need more ferries at peak times. The bus and ferry companies and residents don’t have the chance to communicate. District council members can create a platform for us to talk – we can hold a meeting once every two months.
The government has made promises over the Pui O wetlands but has done nothing. How can you help protect the wetlands?
We have a law to protect the South Lantau wetlands and also to protect the buffalo. Two years ago the government agreed to update the law, but this year the Chief Executive Policy Address again failed to mention it.
I think district council members can raise this issue again.
In South Lantau and Mui Wo, we have different parties. One will love and care about the environment. They know the ecosystem is very important for the community. The second – they want more development. They have the intention to destroy the wetlands. They also have the intention to move the buffalo and cows.
The first party includes many of the residents. They love the buffalos and love the wetland, but they are scared to speak out. If district council members can collect people’s ideas about the wetlands and how to deal with problems of the buffalo and try to find a way to form a community consensus.
Also we have connections with the FEHD and the EPD, some of them are friends. We ask them what are the problems they face. Resources? Manpower? Rural party problems? We want to know what the problems are and try to find a way to protect the wetland and the buffalos.
I think education is very important. We have some residents who know a great deal about the cattle and buffalo and are willing to share. If more people know how to communicate with the animals and understand their behaviour, that will help.
What is the progress of the Mui Wo facelift?
They call it the Mui Wo improvement works. The first question is: improvements for whom? For tourists or residents?
When we saw the plan from 2017, we didn’t see improvement for residents. They moved the bicycle parking far away, and then moved the restaurants into the ferry pier building.
We collected some opinions. People really strongly disagree with moving the bike parking. It’s not convenient for them. But now the problem is not enough space. That’s why we have bicycles everywhere. So people suggest that we should extend the bike parking because more people are moving here.
So we asked the CEDD for more information. They told us the plan was made in 2017, but can change and they are considering changes. But they don’t think it will happen immediately – maybe it might take another five or ten years to finalise this stage.
For the residents we think that is good, so we have more time to discuss what we need. Hopefully more time to debate and more time for them to change their plan so it works for residents, not just tourists.
Hong Kong’s remaining wetland areas are under threat after a High Court has ruled the government cannot prevent landowners from dumping rubbish on wetland sites, green group Living Islands Movement (LIM) has warned.
Yesterday’s judicial review decision over the dumping of waste on a Pui O wetland plot “means that Hong Kong will likely now lose a significant amount of its last remaining wetland habitats,” LIM said in a statement.
“This land in question was zoned as ‘Coastal Protection Area’ by the Government and their intent that it should be protected was clear in the zoning regulations.”
A local resident, Christian Masset, had sought a judicial review into the approval by the director of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) of waste dumping on a privately-owned Pui O allotment in 2015.
Under the Waste Disposal Ordinance, landowners are permitted to dump landfill on their own land, but must seek EPD approval to do so.
Masset had argued that the EPD director had the power under the law to refuse approval. However, Justice Kenneth Au ruled that the director did not have that power.
It seems illogical to us and other observers that the Hong Kong Government, leading a ‘World City’, would conclude that they have no authority to prevent a private landowner destroying a valuable wetland habitat which is also a biodiversity hotspot and home to rare and semi-rare species of wetland animals and plants.
The landfilling related to this case has also destroyed part of the habitat sustaining Hong Kong’s last remaining feral herd of water buffaloes, a unique aspect of Hong Kong’s cultural legacy, something that should be valued and protected for future generations.
The case once again highlighted the ineffectiveness of the Hong Kong’s wetlands protection laws and the government’s unwillingness to confront developers and rural landowners.
The Sustainable Lantau Blueprint issued 15 months ago specifically calls for the preservation of South Lantau’s wetlands. But Chief Executive Carrie Lam says she sees no reason to change the law and refuses to condemn wetland dumping.
LIM called on the government to amend the legislation and implement statutory protections for Coastal Protection Areas. These were established by the colonial government 30 years ago for ecologically significant coastal zones across the city, but lack any enforceable safeguards.
LIM also expressed concern that it had taken two years for Au to issue his decision.
“This is a clear indication that the judicial process in Hong Kong is broken. We ask the Secretary for Justice to explain this unacceptable delay and outline how she will fix the problem.”
Shui Hau’s rich and fragile ecosystem has attracted the biggest share of funds under the government’s new Lantau environmental education scheme.
Two proposals, from WWF HK and the City University Chemistry Department, have together received HK$2.35 million under the Environmental Education & Community Action Projects funding scheme for Lantau conservation.
WWF Hong Kong received HK$1.59 million for its proposal to “promote preservation of the high ecological value of Shui Hau and to enrich ecological knowledge of intertidal mudflats.” It also proposes the creation of a code of conduct for clam diggers.
The City U team aims to “enhance public’s understanding of the ecological value of Shui Hau and human’s impacts on the ecology (especially Horseshoe Crabs).”
They are among nine projects to have attracted HK$9 million in funds, the government announced yesterday.
Other recipients include The Environmental Association, which received HK$1.56 million to help develop an augmented reality app and panoramic videos, and OIWA (Outlying Islands Women’s Association), which was awarded HK$1.3 million to run conservation education programmes for children and students.
The Environment & Conservation Fund Secretariat says it set up the Lantau fund to support the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint’s vision of balancing development and conservation.
It also earmarked another HK$10 million to education and community action conservation projects for South Lantau.
The full list of funded projects:
Government departments received more than 10,000 complaints about illegal dumping of construction waste last year, but prosecuted only 80 cases.
The Environmental Protection Department, which had received 1850 complaints, was responsible for 75 of the prosecutions, according to a paper compiled for the Legco Environmental Affairs Panel.
The paper, which has been prepared ahead of a panel discussion next Monday, does not say how many of those prosecutions were successful, or what penalties were imposed.
But it does reveal that the total number of complaints filed to the EPD and the Lands, Highway, Food & Health and other departments had increased 39% over the three years to the end of 2017 (see chart above).
Construction waste was dumped without authorisation on a Pui O wetland plot last November (see photo above) but the EPD has taken no action against the owner, Au-Yeung Kam Ping.
Interestingly, the EPD has said it has surveillance camera footage of dumping taking place on Au-Yeung’s site. However, according to the Legco paper, no such camera exists anywhere on Lantau.
The Legco hearing follows a scathing report by the Audit Commission on the EPD’s repeated failures in tackling illegal waste dumping. It found that the department was almost totally reactive in dealing with the issue, waiting for public complaints rather than initiating its own inspections.
The figures above indicate that even when it receives a public complaint it rarely takes action.
The Environmental Affairs Panel hearing on the enforcement of fly-tipping laws takes place at 2:30pm next Monday.
A local environmental group, Carbon Care InnoLab, is planning to hold a Tai O hike and fundraiser to raise awareness of the climate change threat to the low-lying village.
The group is inviting the public to join a 7km hike on the Lantau Trail above Tai O, passing Lung Tsai Ng Yuen and down to the coast,.
Carbon Care InnoLab co-founder Chong Chen Yau said climate change will bring about extreme weather events, fiercer typhoons and heavier rainfall.
He notes that when Typhoon Hagupit struck in 2008, Tai O was flooded, isolated from the rest of Hong Kong and its power cut off.
Changes in water levels and salinity will also threaten the ecology of the seaside and threaten mangrove forests and their ability to withstand typhoons.
In Tai O the group will set up an educational station to share information on the impact of flooding and landslides, and on environmental conservation and local fisheries.
Details of the March 18 event here.
Photo (top): Emergency services training drill, Tai O, last August
The AFCD will hold a tree-planting day in Lantau South Country Park on April 8.
Participants will plant tree seedlings on lower Lantau Peak on Lantau Trail Section 3.
The AFCD will provide the seedlings and planting tools. Volunteers are asked to bring their own gloves and a bag for carrying seedlings.
Volunteers can enrol at the registration point at the Pak Kung Au picnic area from 9am to 10.30am.
The planting site is approximately 45 minutes from Pak Kung Au.
Other tree planting days, jointly held with Friends of the Country Parks, will take place Shing Mun Country Park on March 18 and Sai Kung West Country Park on April 22.