Plans for an artificial beach in Hong Kong attracts locals’ fury

Cross Posted from France 24

Mock-up of the artificial beach slated to open in 2014 in Lung Mei. Photo courtesy of HK Wild Life.

Three hundred animal and plant species could vanish from Hong Kong’s Lung Mei shoreline due to an artificial beach project. At least, that’s what residents from the district in which the beach would be located claim. Tai Po district has seen an increasing number of protests from environmentalists as the construction’s start date looms. 

The idea for this 200-metre-long artificial beach was first floated over a decade ago, but the project is only now getting underway, with construction scheduled to start in November 2012 and finish in 2014. Hong Kong authorities plan to remove stones and pebbles from the currently-wild seashore, and then level and drain the submerged soil. They are also planning on building parking lots, bathrooms, showers, canals, and shark nets. Altogether, the project will cost $208 million.

The top image is an aerial view of the Lung Mei shore; the lower image is the plan for the artificial beach. Photos posted on Facebook by HK Wild Life.

 On November 4, about 3,000 protesters, by the organizers’ count, gathered to protest what they deem will be a catastrophe for the local birds and aquatic fauna. Protesters mainly denounce the lack of consultations with the residents of Tai Po, and accuse the government of relying exclusively on reports produced by institutions close to the state. Moreover, according to local activists, the site has already been contaminated by heavy metals from a nearby dump and is therefore unsafe to swim in.

Approximately 3,000 people protested against the artificial beach project, on Sunday November 4. Photo posted on TravelFoto’s Twitter account.

 Meanwhile, Hong Kong authorities claim to be acting on Tai Po residents’ behalf. According to them, the beach could attract up to 4,000 tourists in the high season. Last week, the Chinese government, through the Secretary for Home Affairs, renewed its commitment to complete the project despite opposition. The Secretary discussed implementing a species conservation plan; this, however, did noting to allay residents’ fears.

Members of the Hong Kong Wild Life collective have been working on raising community awareness about the risks they believe the project poses to local Lung Mei species. Picture posted on HK Wild Life’s Facebook page.

“If construction begins, a rare species of seahorse could go extinct”

Dickson Wong Chi-Chun is a member of the Hong Kong Wild Life organisation. He has opposed the Lung Mei artificial beach plan project since it was first publicly announced in November 2007.

 “The Hong Kong Wild Life organisation has identified 234 species living on the Lung Mei shore over the last four years. The organisation’s members have travelled to the site over 100 times to identify all of its living organisms, with the help of experts and academics from Hong Kong. Together with plant species, there are about 300 species threatened by the project, most of which are unique to this region.”

We won our first fight in 2008, when the Chinese Ministry of Environment asked experts for an additional report because they felt that the first environmental impact report was insufficient. This gave us some additional time, but the ministry eventually approved the project a year later based on a new report, which was essentially the same as the old one. The only difference is that they reduced the size of the beach to “limit the environmental impact” (point 6 of page 4 of the report).

“The residents of Lung Mei don’t want concrete slabs”

Over the last five years, we have been trying to have reasonable discussions with the authorities, but they continue to do as they please. So we’ve decided to ramp up our protests by bringing together university researchers, environmental activists and animal right groups. The residents of Lung Mei may have been tempted at a given point by the artificial beach, but the project is no longer something they want: the community wants a natural beach, not a pointless man-made concrete slab.  

Hong Kong Wild Life has identified 234 animal species living in Lung Mei and photographed all of them. Pictures posted on the HK Wild Life Facebook page. 

 “We stand ready to occupy the beach in order to prevent the beginning of construction”

The authorities have floated an alternative they call “Ting Kok Plus.” It’s a long-term conservation plan bringing together various environmental groups. The plan is supposed to ensure the region’s economic development and raise community awareness about environmental problems through a new office that would host workshops. This proposal is clear evidence that they did not hear anything we’ve been saying. They need to find a place better suited to the project or consider an alternative like natural swimming pools, which use aquatic plants rather than chemicals to filter the water. The “Ting Kok Plus” plan does not change anything about the original project and would sacrifice the entire natural coastline. We call it the “Ting Kok Minus.”

 The members of the beach protection group stand ready to occupy the beach and prevent the start of construction. We have recently discovered the presence of an endangered seahorse species [editor’s note: the Kuda Seahorse], and if construction begins, this species may disappear. The environmental protection department has recently received a complaint about this. If they ignore it, we are ready to take legal action.

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