Environmental groups warn government’s Lok Ma Chau Loop proposal could cause ‘ecological disaster’ for wetlands, wildlife

The area lies within the flight path of various migratory birds and is home to the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2017, 10:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 3:08am

Environmental groups have criticised a government plan to develop the Lok Ma Chau Loop, warning it could trigger an “ecological disaster” for the surrounding wetlands and wildlife.

Matthew Sin Kar-wah, senior environmental affairs manager of Green Power, said developing the loop would require building roads, drainage systems and other infrastructure in the area, which otherwise had very limited access.

“I’m worried that such a massive development would cause an ecological disaster in the area,” Sin said.

His concerns came after the Hong Kong and Shenzhen governments on Tuesday agreed to jointly develop the Lok Ma Chau Loop into an innovation and technology park.

The 88-hectare piece of land was formed in 1997 after a curve in the Shenzhen river was straightened to improve flow.

The loop is located four kilometres from the Mai Po Marshes, one of Hong Kong’s most valuable nature reserves, and surrounded by wetlands and fish ponds.

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Government assessments of the area found the locally rare Rose Bitterling fish species living in the neighbouring ponds. The loop also lies within the flight path of various migratory birds and is home to the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill.

A Green Power study also found the area to be one of Hong Kong’s major butterfly habitats.

While the government proposed a 13-hectare off-site ecological area to compensate for the loss of marsh area, Roy Ng Hei-man, assistant campaign manager of the Conservancy Association, said it would be impossible as the loop was part of a complete ecological system.

“We are completely against this project,” Ng said, adding the development could disturb the feeding patterns of migratory birds, which often stop in the area.

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In addition to the wildlife concerns, the loop’s contaminated soil also had environmental groups questioning the government proposal.

The loop area was once used as a dumping ground for mud dredged from the polluted Shenzhen river. Marginally excessive levels of the poisonous chemical arsenic were found in five locations along its boundary.

The government estimated that the contaminated soil in the loop amounted to 57,444 cubic metres. And it proposed using cement to solidify the arsenic-contaminated soil while excavating other contaminated soil.

A government source said treating the contamination in the area would not be more difficult than in other projects.

Despite the proposed solutions, Cheng Luk-ki, Green Power’s head of scientific research, said the government still had to find a suitable place to dump the contaminated soil.

The State Council in 1997 issued a directive clarifying that the loop falls inside Hong Kong’s boundary, which gave the city administrative power over the area.