New Hong Kong water park poses threat to local egrets, birdwatchers warn

Site in Tai Po sparks worries for egrets, soon after deadly tree pruning accident

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 June, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 June, 2017, 8:02am

A new water park set in a prime birdwatching site in Tai Po could disturb local egrets, concern groups have warned, with crowds expected to pour in over the summer holidays.

Hot on the heels of poorly handled tree pruning at an egret breeding ground at the centre of Tai Po district about a week ago that killed more than a dozen hatchlings, a 1,400-square-metre park with inflatables including a water slide 1.5km from that site has raised conservationists’ ire.

Core Aqua Park is built in a sleepy lagoon at the Lake Egret Nature Park in the south of Tai Po. Its managers expect 4,800 to 5,600 visitors per month.

Nestled in a birdwatching site near Tai Po Kau Tsuen, between Tai Po and Chinese University, the natural park occupies around 23 acres of diversified habitats with abundant wildlife.

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“The park could be a potential threat to the egrets there,” said Woo Ming-chuan, conservation officer of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society. “The [park management] should have gone through a much more comprehensive review process before obtaining the operating licence.”

Launched in 2000 by local developer Kerry Properties, the natural park was aimed at improving public awareness of environmental protection. It is only four minutes’ walk from the Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve and a mangrove wetland, which are both home to a number of egrets and other forest birds.

Woo said it was hard to estimate the exact number of egrets in the area.

Water sports on the lake have died down over recent years, according to local residents, with the inflatable park a new addition.

The park got a licence in June last year, but only opened for business last week.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) consulted it about the licence application last year and that it had “no strong view” towards granting the licence.

“The site is not a major roosting or feeding site for egrets, and is surrounded by access roads, railway and a restaurant,” the department said. “The site has also been used for aquatic activities for a long time.”

A spokesman of the FEHD – which was solely responsible for the licence decision – said it only considered the nature of premises when granting a licence.

Wan Kit-chun, event and marketing manager of the water park, said people were overreacting.

“Neither we nor our customers would do large activities there such as chopping off trees or building up major constructions, so how could the birds be affected that much?” he said.

Although egrets might be scared away by visitors during the daytime they could benefit from a more “enriched ecosystem” in the lake, Wan said.

“With more people having activities in the lake, there would be more oxygen and nutrition created, and this is good for the egrets as they could find more food there,” he said.

He added that the water park management cleaned up rubbish around the park to improve the environment.