Construction noise raises fears for endangered black-faced spoonbill

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 February, 2010, 12:00am

It is a tranquil scene: recently arrived black-faced spoonbills sift for food in a muddy fish pond near Palm Springs in Yuen Long.

Calm and serene, that is, until the engines of bulldozers start up in the morning on an adjacent construction site, and the frightened flock heads for the skies. Residents of villas overlooking the pond are worried about its effect on the globally threatened spoonbill.

One of them, Daphne Ma Nga-yin, said: 'We woke up one day to find them there. I haven't seen so many spoonbills at the pond and so close to us.'

Low-density housing is being built on the site, which comprises fish ponds that have been filled in. The 21 hectare project - Wo Shang Wai - is being developed by a subsidiary of Henderson Land. As part of it, 4.74 hectares of wetland will be created.

Ma said the work had started two months ago and bulldozers had been doing land formation work close to the boundary of the pond. She was worried about the construction work affecting the birds. She asked if there was a contingency plan, such as stopping work when the birds were close to the work site.

According to a permit issued by the Environmental Protection Department in 2008 for the project, the contractor can only carry out construction work on the part of the site close to the pond between March and November. Noise barriers and hoardings should also be erected along the boundary of the work site to minimise disturbance to the fish pond.

But none have been erected. A Henderson Land spokeswoman said yesterday that the birds were only temporarily attracted to the pond. She said the company had met all legal requirements and the current work was in preparation for construction and the erection of hoardings in March. Such preparatory work did not violate the permit conditions.

Yu Yat-tung, a veteran birdwatcher, said it would be better to suspend work during the winter season for the migratory birds. He said the spoonbill, with its large size, tended to be more sensitive to noise and human disturbance. Large flocks had been found occasionally feeding and resting in the area, indicating it was an important habitat for them, he said.

The global population of the black-faced spoonbill is around 2,000. Each year 300 to 400 winter in Hong Kong.