Lamma Island

Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 December, 2010, 12:00am


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Sham Wan - Deep Bay - on the southern coast of Lamma, has welcomed overseas visitors for millennia - and we're not talking about tourists. Green sea turtles still make their way through the Pearl River estuary's polluted, overcrowded waters in search of a nesting site, much as they have done since long before humans - of any ethnicity - first settled on these shores. (For more on the region's turtles, see page 28.)

One of only two places in southern China where green turtles are known to nest, Sham Wan is a site of significant ecological importance. Photographs of a picturesque white sand beach on websites and other material strive to show just how effective government conservation efforts are, and give an impression that Hong Kong's remoter beaches are pristine gems waiting to be discovered. As ever in Hong Kong, truth and official spin sharply diverge at this point.

Like most of our beaches, Deep Bay is often covered end to end in marine detritus; annual clean-ups by dedicated volunteers mean the beach is clear of rubbish when the turtles are due to arrive. But during the rest of the year, it remains strewn with styrofoam, discarded plastic bottles and fishing nets - as squalid as any other remote beach in Hong Kong. Human access to the nesting areas is restricted and interference with either turtles or nests is prohibited. For decades, turtle eggs were gathered and sold as a seasonal delicacy, much as they were on the east coast of Malaysia, and in other parts of Southeast Asia. Fortunately for the region's turtles, egg-gathering has long since been eliminated - at least in places where penalties are properly enforced.

Neolithic artefacts were first uncovered at Sham Wan in the 1930s, by amateur archaeologists, some of whom were Jesuit priests who lectured in geography at the University of Hong Kong.

Noted first-world-war poet Edmund Blunden, who lectured in English at the university in the 50s, was an occasional visitor to these excavations. He wrote about one of these digs and the enduring links to the past that they uncovered in his poem On Lamma Island;

A factory, he decides, here nigh the sea

Three thousand years ago sold pottery;

He hands drab shards in proof to you and me

Beneath the old calm sky. We cannot hold

In hands untrembling these skilled works of old.

He takes them gently, richly, like red gold.

Archaeological digs are still conducted from time to time at Sham Wan and more items are uncovered.