Man-made beach will be 'bad for swimming'

Construction work is imminent, but defeated conservationists aren't giving up their fightto stop the controversial Lung Mei project

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 4:01am

A biologist says the "ecologically valuable" Tai Po coast which the government will turn into a man-made beach is not suitable for swimming, while some local residents are gearing up to show support for the project even before the controversial construction begins, perhaps as soon as in a week.

Dr Billy Hau Chi-hang, a principal lecturer at the University of Hong Kong's school of biological sciences, said Lung Mei was of "undeniably" high ecological value. "When artificial sand is laid on the beach, the water flow will slow down. The seabed silt will in the long run turn black and odorous due to the marine organisms," Hau told City Forum yesterday.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and executive councillors on Tuesday rejected a petition asking for the permit to build the beach be revoked on the grounds the project may have a bigger impact than anticipated. The Executive Council last week said there were no grounds to do so.

Work on the artificial beach is scheduled to start this month after the Civil Engineering and Development Department last week awarded the work contract to Welcome Construction Company. The winning bid was HK$74 million.

The award had been delayed twice because of the petition.

Clement Woo Kin-man, a Tai Po resident and member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, joined a rally at the site in support of the construction.

"This area used to be six kilometres of sandy beaches, but because of the dam, it's not any more. All we're asking is that we revert this 200-metre strip back to sandy beach."

But environmentalists are saying the assertion by the Tai Po Resident's Association that Lung Mei was a sandy beach before the Plover Cove Reservoir was built was incorrect. They said aerial photographs taken by the government from the decades before the dam showed the area in question was still a muddy estuary.

"The sandy beach they remember is actually inside the Plover Cover Reservoir now," said Dickson Wong Chi-chin, a representative for the Save Lung Mei Alliance.

They also say their data is being ignored, and that studies conducted by the government do not show the full scale of biodiversity in the area.

"Would you give away part of your ear since it's only one small part of your body?" said Wong.

While Woo and the rest of the residents' association say the beach is primarily for the recreational benefit of the residents, and not economic, they concede there are plans for resort spas to be developed in the area, which have been approved by the Town Planning Board.

On one side of the debate lies the rights of residents to have a beach returned to them after losing one when the reservoir was built. They also want the boost to the local economy that such an attraction would bring.

These wishes clash with conservationists calling for protecting a small patch of what little remains of Hong Kong's biodiversity and the rights of marine organisms that live in the area.

"It may not have as many species as Mai Po or Hoi Ha Wan, but it's still a place of high ecological value," said April Chiu Kam-Ying, a veterinarian nurse and activist with the Save Lung Mei Alliance.

'We have no problem with them building up the area to attract more people. Turn it into a marine park, teach them about what's here," said biology teacher Dickson Wong Chi-chun, an alliance member.

"It's already a stable environment. If you change the ecology here, it may affect another place. We don't know."