An island and its waters imperilled

13.07.2011 - Lantau Island - Tony Henderson

The Hong Kong Government has given two options for the planned waste incinerator: at the ash lagoon at Tsang Tsui, Tuen Mun in the New Territories, and by constructing an artificial island off southwest Shek Kwu Chau with a 150 metres high chimney – the height of the island. The latter is the government’s preferred choice.

Humanist Association of Hong Kong has stated its objection on many grounds and offered an alternative – *”No incinerator at all or, very specialised small facilities working with absolute leftovers after comprehensive district recycling, The government should also consider transforming existing Refuse Transfer Stations into Waste Processing Centres, including such specialised use small incinerators.”*

Louise Preston, chairperson, Living Islands Movement, says: *”The government is clearly trying to use incineration as the centrepiece of its so-called integrated waste management strategy while failing to address the root causes of the problem. LIM is strongly urging the government to scrap this plan and introduce a genuinely integrated waste reduction, recycling and management programme instead.”*

Government’s policies have contributed to the filling of landfills and Hong Kong is now one of the world’s most throwaway of societies. Naturalist and islander Dr Martin Williams is up in arms saying: *”The choice of Shek Kwu Chau as a covered tip is not justified on any scientific basis, and is environmentally unacceptable and seems in large part a political decision, not arising from science.

“Also, Shek Kwu Chau selection contradicts government plans under its own Southwest New Territories Development Strategy Review which recommended that south Lantau and nearby islands be protected for nature conservation and leisure tourism.”*

The completed [now withdrawn] environmental impact assessment was biased with factors not covered that reject other sites which appears to result from political imperatives, telling that the consultants are following orders from elsewhere.

Shek Kwu Chau is an unacceptable choice because of its location: the island is exposed to winds, tropical storms and is not a site for complex and substantial industrial operations. Reclaiming around 16 hectares of land, plus breakwaters and berthing area will cause significant destruction and damage to the marine environment. Also for reasons of cost: big money is required to build the artificial island. Time constraints too as building the island will take time, only when complete can the actual incinerator be constructed.

Green Island Cement has a plan – faster, less costly, on industrial land – for incineration that includes some sorting before burning yet this even less-than-excellent option does not seem to be considered. The removal of metals by separation and sorting before incineration would reduce the heavy metal emissions both from the flue gas and the incineration ash.

Dr Williams also points out that: *”Cost is a major negative as constructing an island for an incinerator – which will be a substantial industrial facility – will be expensive and the infrastructure is lacking. Also, as an island must be built, the incinerator cannot become operational until about 2018 at the earliest. This may well be after existing landfills are full.”*

The naturalist also points out that:* “Shek Kwu Chau has remarkable biodiversity. “One species and one sub-species of snake – Hollinrake’s Racer and Jade Vine Snake – are unique to the island. Shek Kwu Chau is one of only three islands in the world that are home to Bogadek’s legless lizard. The butterfly diversity is high, with over 70 species recorded – around one-third of Hong Kong’s species. This is one of few local breeding sites for Hong Kong’s most magnificent resident bird of prey, the White-bellied Sea-Eagle.”*

Further: *”Marine biodiversity is high, reflected in the waters of southwest Shek Kwu Chau being the best fishing ground near Cheung Chau, and 15 species of hard coral being found. This is one of three key sites in Hong Kong for Indo-Pacific Finless Porpoise, a marine mammal that is globally vulnerable to extinction. Reclamation of around 16 hectares plus breakwaters and berthing area will cause significant and unacceptable destruction and damage to the marine environment.”*

Finally, there is the tourism value factor as Cheung Chau and south Lantau are highly important for tourism, serving as major leisure areas for Hong Kong people, and destinations for overseas visitors. Activities include hiking, swimming, enjoying seafood, and the scenery. Shek Kwu Chau is an important island for these visitors, readily visible from many places – and the waters here are popular for leisure boats, with potential for increased visits to appreciate the unspoiled coastlines!

Among the nearby island’s protesters is the Cheung Chau Ching Wa Sports Association which body has rallied against the incinerator, also activist Basil Hui who brought together the different opposition groups. The local fishermen have individually expressed anger at the reclamation but as a very conservative group have not mounted a protest deputation so far.

Categories: Asia, Ecology and Environment

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