There are some photographs pinned to the back of a stand which show a small slice of Hong Kong’s natural wildlife and habitat. These snapshots on display reveal some of environmental campaigner and educator Dickson Wong Chi-chun’s happiest childhood memories.
Wong, 37, is showing me the best pictures capturing the essence of the city’s true biodiversity.
He’s about to go on stage to present awards to winners of an environmental photographic competition arranged by students at the University of Hong Kong.
Before he makes the keynote speech as the special guest, on the sidelines, he points to a photo of lush fishpond wetlands that sit on the frontier with Shenzhen. He says he remembers how parts of Hong Kong reflected in just the one still photo before the redevelopment cranes came in.
“But now it looks like the big city. I can see the environment has been degraded, the biodiversity is lower, and the number of species is inevitably scarce,” he says. “It is really a trend that the government is encroaching on a green buffer zone.”
Now on stage, Wong praises the work of the shutterbugs whose works of environmental snapshots are being rewarded.
He uses his opportune moment with the mic urging everyone to treasure priceless aspects of wildlife. “Once this is destroyed, we will lose it forever, and we can’t re-create at all.”
Slowly, his childhood memories are being erased, he explains. He despairs at a constant land grab that’s destroying more and more of his beloved greenbelt land and open waters for concrete jungles. Hong Kong’s biological D.N.A is being rolled back.
Wong says he can’t stand the changing landscape from green to concrete, glass and steel.
“Nature is my playground,” he says.
Growing up in a squatter settlement, Wong appreciated the surroundings of the hillside and the vast expanse of greenery as his playground since he had no toys of his own growing up in a low-income family.
“It is so nice to have a countryside environment. It is so awesome to have different habitats.”
Throughout the years, he has continued to surround himself with nature.
The greenbelt is being cannibalised to make way for human activity at the expense of the smallest of bugs and other creatures because of the precious little parcel of land Hong Kong occupies, he says.
Even marine life, to Wong’s despair, is being churned up and reclaimed to put make way for homes and offices under the auction hammer.
Of course, he is speaking of the Chinese White Dolphin, marked by a distinctive pink shading on its skin, under threat with the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge building in full swing and the threat of a third runway at Chep Lap Kok on the sidelines.
Wong says the Chinese white dolphin is one of our “star species”. To him, it feels like the government is saying: ‘We can’t accommodate you, you have to go find somewhere else.’
But he insists “the government is not God, and cannot create something natural” to match the same kind of habitats that dolphins previously co-existed in side-by-side with the city’s expanding land mass,
Wong has thrown his weight behind the environmental lobby’s resistance to the government’s planned man-made beach in Lung Mei, along a 200-metre stretch of coastline in the New Territories.
The area, which is rich in biodiversity, is under threat.
“I am trying to promote, and speak, for the little creatures that exist here,” says Wong. “You have to treasure them because they are so interesting and valuable to nature.”