Typhoon shelter hits stormy weather

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, 12:00am

The new $260 million typhoon shelter in Tai O is a 'white elephant' because only a few boats have used it since it was opened last September, according to residents and a green group.

They also described the project as an 'environmental disaster' because the construction work destroyed the fishing village's heritage and natural scenery.

The four-hectare anchorage, with a capacity of 200 boats, was aimed at reviving Tai O's fishing industry and promoting tourism.

But Daniel Lam Wai-keung, chairman of the Island District Council, said: 'Originally we wanted the typhoon shelter to revive the fishing industry here but the result is not as good as we expected. It doesn't seem like there will be many boats back here this typhoon season.'

The project also included a 130-metre promenade with landing steps, the restoration of a historic sea wall and the building of a new sea wall for the shelter.

During construction of the anchorage and associated marine channels, two million cubic metres of mud was dredged away from an abandoned salt pan area. A seven-hectare intertidal area was then set up in which mangroves will be replanted. The replanting is to compensate for the loss of mangroves due to the construction of Chek Lap Kok airport.

A Civil Engineering and Development Department document at the time the project was launched in 2003 estimated about 200 boats would anchor in the shelter once it was completed.

But residents said they barely see any boats in the new shelter. Two visits by the South China Morning Post last week only found one fishing boat in the anchorage. There were seven small fishing boats nearby, but they were anchored next to the landing steps.

'I pass by the shelter area every day and most of the time the typhoon shelter is empty. I have only seen two boats there once,' said Wong Wai-king, founder of the Tai O Cultural Workshop.

Ms Wong, who was once a fisherman, said the fishing industry had long been in decline in the area and the typhoon shelter was unlikely to draw fishermen back. The project raised heated debate during its planning, not least because residents argued the local fishing industry was declining.

But it was pushed ahead with the support of the Tai O Rural Committee and the Islands District Council.

Ms Wong said the typhoon shelter had destroyed Tai O's heritage and natural scenery. 'They wiped out the abandoned salt pan, which was an important part of the village's history,' she said. 'Worse still, the new sea wall has blocked us from the precious sunset scenery.'

This story is an edited version of an article by Quinton Chan published in the South China Morning Post yesterday


Nicknamed 'The Venice of Hong Kong', Tai O is one of the outlying islands west of Hong Kong, located southwest of Lantau Island.

For 50 years, people crossed the water on a rope ferry pulled by two villagers (right). In 1996, a steel bridge was built across the creek, making access to the island much easier.

In the past, the small community of Tai O earned a living by fishing and in the salt industry. Today most earn their money through tourism.

Tourists buy salted fish and shrimp paste as souvenirs of their trip.

The traditional homes in Tai O are built on stilts and known as bamboo houses.

How to get there

To get to Tai O, you can take a ferry to Mui Wu. Or take a bus or the MTR to Tung Chung, then hop on a bus to Tai O. On public holidays, there are also ferries from Tuen Mun to Tai O.


Is the Tai O typhoon shelter a waste of money?


Why aren't Tai O residents happy with the typhoon anchorage?

What has been the environmental impact of the project?

How has Tai O changed over the past 30 years?

What does 'white elephant' mean?

A white elephant is a valuable possession whose upkeep is excessively expensive, and may be useless apart from its value to the giver and receiver.


'Of course, you can argue that it is not typhoon season but there are many boats in other shelters during winter and spring. It is a complete waste of money, a white elephant' Wong Wai-king, founder of the

Tai O Cultural Workshop

'As you can see, this area is now built like a park and looks so artificial,' Dr Ng said. 'It is ridiculous. The government has been talking so hard about promoting tourism but they build things at a popular tourist spot which destroyed the best scenery'

Ng Cho-nam, a geography professor from the University of Hong Kong and a core member of the Conservancy Association

'Apparently many fishermen have gone further afield and do not opt to come back to Tai O. We just hope the fishing industry in Tai O will get better later'

Islands District Council's Daniel Lam



- Hong Kong Tourism Board


- the history of Tai O from Wikipedia


- these photos give a good feel of village life in Tai O


- an excellent map of Tai O