MAI PO is not just a good exhibit of nature's beauty, it also offers an excellent learning opportunity for those who are interested in conservation and the environment. Agriculture and Fisheries Director Lawrence Lee said more than 35,000 visitors visited Mai Po every year, including students from 350 schools. He believed the visits not only gave students enjoyable outdoor recreation and enriched their understanding of Mai Po, but also helped spread the message of nature conservation. Dr Lee was officiating at the opening ceremony of this year's 'Discover Mai Po' project held recently at the nature reserve in the northwest New Territories. 'As the Mai Po marshes are an ideal place for bird-watching, field studies and research, it is crucial that this valuable natural habitat be conserved for the present and future generations.' Apart from the government's efforts, Dr Lee said public awareness and support for wetlands was of equal importance in ensuring long-term success in protecting it. 'Mai Po marshes (and Inner Deep Bay) is a wetland of international importance, as its ecosystem comprises the largest colony of dwarf mangroves in Hong Kong, intertidal mudflats, shallow waters, fish ponds and gei wais ,' Dr Lee said. 'It is home to many species of birds and a range of wildlife such as leopard cats and otters, and an important stopover and 'refuelling' station for thousands of migratory birds, including rare species such as blackfaced spoonbills, of which only about 350 remain in the world and 25 per cent of them wintering at Mai Po. 'The figures of annual bird counts also show a rising trend from some 20,000 birds 10 years ago to over 50,000 last winter, pointing to the increasing importance of this wetland for migratory birds.' Dr Lee added that the Discover Mai Po project had been gaining momentum in the past few years. Last year alone, the project raised more than $750,000.