Rare moth at risk in Hoi Ha project

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am

An endangered moth that is unique to Hong Kong could stand in the way of plans for a small-house development in an ecologically sensitive part of Sai Kung that some residents say should not be allowed for fear of marine pollution.

The mangrove China-mark moth was sighted last April in the Hoi Ha marine park, where planning permission has been sought for a dozen houses, two of which have received conditional approval, in a development that could grow to 100 houses.

Moth specialist Dr Roger Kendrick, who made the discovery, said the project could wipe out the only known colony in the world of the fragile species.

His concerns are the latest to be expressed about the development, which also include possible flooding from changes to the coastline, pollution from septic tanks and destruction of the moths' habitat.

Residents have launched a campaign seeking public support for their opposition to the applications, particularly the one involving the two houses, which will go up for public consultation tomorrow.

Opponents said the existence of the moths was unlikely to have been given adequate consideration in the applications, which were filed in 2010, the year before Kendrick's discovery.

'Planning permission means there is now an immediate threat of extinction to the only known viable colony in the world,' said Kendrick, author of a book on Hong Kong's moths.

He said the moth had been seen only twice before, once in Tung Chung and once in an unspecified coastal location.

Kendrick said it would be a shame if the government failed to protect the moth, especially since the international Convention on Biodiversity was extended to Hong Kong just last year. He also said he understood that the moth would be featured in a stamps series to be issued by Hongkong Post next year.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it had no record of the moth in Hoi Ha and lacked sufficient information to identify the species. It also did not say what advice it had given to the Planning Department about the applications, but pledged to make sure any adverse ecological and environmental impacts were addressed.

Kendrick said the department should have known about the discovery, as it had been circulated on the internet. He wondered if the conservation department was under pressure from other departments to keep quiet about it.

Thirteen house applications were filed with the Town Planning Board on separate dates after Hoi Ha was given an interim zoning in 2010 as part of the government drive to plug loopholes that were allowing development abuses in unprotected country park enclaves.

The two proposed houses now up for consultation are planned on land near coastal mangroves and just metres from the high tide mark, which is the subject of another controversy in the Hoi Ha community.

Some residents say the mark has already shifted far inland after a change to the natural coastline in the past, meaning potential house sites could be flooded.

They also want the Environmental Protection Department to stringently enforce a water pollution law by preventing the use of septic tanks in the ecologically sensitive area.

The law - listed in a technical memorandum on drainage discharge - says no new effluent should be allowed within 100 metres of a site of special scientific interest. Hoi Ha was designated as such site since 1989 and became a marine park in 1996 in recognition of its rich coral habitats.

Campaigner David Newbery, a member of pressure group Friends of Hoi Ha, said the department had ignored the law by approving septic tanks so close to the marine park and should consider the cumulative effect of up to 100 houses that could be built in the area.

'At what point will the [Environmental Protection Department] be considering the cumulative effect of numerous houses on the environment, rather than treating each application as individual and unrelated' he asked.

The department said septic tanks met the requirements of the law.