Hong Kong Wetland Park is an interesting, but surreal place

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 January, 2008, 12:00am

I have long had serious misgivings concerning Hong Kong Wetland Park, especially given it reportedly cost about HK$500 million - a huge sum compared to monies spent on conservation in the internationally important Deep Bay wetland, which the park is both within and yet oddly isolated from.

Even so, I headed there one recent weekend, figuring it might make for an interesting family outing. Indeed it was interesting, yet the visit only confirmed my misgivings, for the wetland park is a surreal place, and perhaps could rank as the World's Weirdest Wetland Park.

It supposedly doubles as a centre for conservation and a tourism attraction. Yet my impression is it's the product of designers with little or no real conservation knowledge, who were given a free reign with an enormous budget. There is an outdoor habitat with water, but to anyone familiar with nearby Mai Po marshes much of this seems almost sterile.

Only one lagoon looks to have first rate habitat; two hides gaze towards Deep Bay, over areas outside the park and with rather few, distant birds. The 10,000 square metre visitor centre is approached by a broad concrete road North Korea might be proud of. Within are exhibits including an artificial mangrove swamp - barely a stone's throw from one of the prime mangrove areas in south China.

Strangest of all during my visit, the restaurant menu listed shark's fin soup, although I have since learned it is fake. This is appropriate, perhaps, in a place with mock mangroves and interiors that seem far from reality.

I know the park has reported high visitor numbers, so has been touted a success. But how many of the visitors were overseas tourists?

If this number is small, the park is not playing a significant role as a tourism attraction. And if few or none of the visitors become enthused about conservation, then the park is failing in this too.

In 2004, I held discussions with park planners, expressing misgivings and covering possible measures to nurture ecotourism in the area, and benefit local people. I hope some of these measures can be implemented.

Dr Martin Williams, director, Hong Kong Outdoors