image

Lung Mei beach

Animal lovers lament as Hong Kong sea creatures cleared out for man-made pleasure beach

After years of controversy and a judicial challenge, creatures including seahorses, starfish and urchins moved from Tai Po beach to nearby bay

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 December, 2017, 4:44pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 11:35pm

Hong Kong environmentalists could only stand and watch on Friday as workmen at a seashore moved rare creatures from their usual home to make way for an artificial pleasure beach.

Activists have decried the plan for Lung Mei Beach in Tai Po – and even taken the government to court over it – but have since accepted there is little they can do to stop the work and keep the starfish, urchins and other animals in place.

On November 25 government officials and contract workers started moving what could be several hundred marine animals from the future site of the man-made beach, which will cost an estimated HK$200 million.

The animals will be relocated to Ting Kok, a seashore about a 20-minute walk west of Lung Mei.

First proposed by the district council in 1998 to cater for residents without beach access, the government project came under fire when conservation groups raised ecological concerns and lodged a judicial review against it in 2013. A court ruling in favour of the project ended the prolonged row in 2014.

Hong Kong has 41 government-run public beaches, and many more beaches that aren’t formally maintained.

Green activists feared the construction would wipe out the rare spotted seahorse and other marine creatures in the area. But government surveys found the site was of low ecological importance, despite sightings of the spotted seahorse, cowfish, and dragonet in the area. The spotted seahorse is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In pictures: Rare marine life moved to make way for man-made beach

“The whole operation is unacceptable,” said Peter Li Siu-man, a spokesman for the Save Lung Mei Alliance, the campaign group formed by 34 member organisations and individuals.

“There is no way to improve the situation now, with trucks already shovelling and crushing the sea creatures.”

Li said trucks carrying cement had entered the site before, and the workers would not be able to pick up and remove creatures buried under the sand.

Palm oil collected from Hong Kong beaches after spill to be recycled and turned into fuel

Work building the beach will not start until the marine animals are all relocated, according to Raymond Cheng Kin-man, senior engineer at the Civil Engineering and Development Department, the government body in charge of building the beach. Workers have already moved about 100 creatures over the past week, Cheng said. And he added that the project’s future benefits outweighed its drawbacks.

“It is a sad moment today, but if you think, there will also be happy moments in the future, when families enjoy a good time at the beach,” he said.

An expert and four contract workers – some armed with small nets, others using their hands – will move seven types of marine creature to Ting Kok, including spotted seahorses, starfish, urchins, sea cucumbers, and three types of rare fish. To help the operation they have enclosed areas of the shallow water with larger nets.

It is a sad moment today, but if you think, there will also be happy moments in the future, when families enjoy a good time at the beach
Raymond Cheng, senior engineer

The workers are likely to complete the relocation by the end of this year, while the construction of the beach, excluding a structure to be built by the Buildings Department, will be finished by mid-2019, Cheng said.

Li and his colleagues said they hoped the animals would get better protection for their habitat in their new home.

“Now we just hope the government will raise the status of Ting Kok to a seashore park, recognising its scientific value, and protect it better,” Li said.

A dozen green activists and residents came to the seashore on Friday. Yan Lam, a local resident, had taken her four-year-old daughter along for a “very good education opportunity”.

“I made an analogy to my daughter: to the animals, this is like someone kicking us out of our home and building an amusement park,” Lam said. “There are no grounds on which we can justify moving [the creatures] away just so we can swim.