WORK OF THE COUNTRY AND MARINE PARKS BRANCH
- To conserve the natural environment through the identification, designation and management of suitable areas as country parks, special areas, geopark, marine parks and marine reserves;
- To conserve important marine and terrestrial fauna and flora, such as the Chinese white dolphins, finless porpoises, coral communities, birds, mammals, butterflies and dragonflies;
- To promote nature appreciation through publicity and educational activities and the provision of suitable facilities.
COUNTRY AND MARINE PARKS
To conserve the countryside, as at March 2017, 44 300 hectares (about 40% of Hong Kong's total land area) have been designated as country parks and special areas. The Department manages all 24 country parks and 22 special areas for conservation, recreation, education and tourism. Hiking trails, mountain bike trails, nature trails, barbecue and picnic sites, camp sites and visitor centres are provided in the country parks, drawing some 13 million visitors in 2016-17.
The Department manages five marine parks and one marine reserve covering 3 400 hectares for conservation, education and scientific studies. Marine parks, which are also for recreation, comprise scenic coastal areas, seascapes and important marine habitats with an abundance of important marine fauna and flora, providing ideal opportunities for diving, snorkelling, canoeing and underwater photography. Some 99 100 visitors to marine parks were recorded in 2016-17.
A map showing the country parks, special areas, marine parks, marine reserve and the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark is at Appendix 13.
COUNTRY PARK ENCLAVES
In the year, the Department proceeded with the statutory procedures to incorporate three enclaves, namely Fan Kei Tok and Sai Lau Kong, into the Plover Cove Country Park, and one near Nam Shan into the Lantau South Country Park.
PROPOSED MARINE PARKS
The designation of the Brothers Marine Park has been completed at the end of 2016. In response to public concern over protecting Chinese white dolphins, the Department was preparing for the designation of the proposed Southwest Lantau Marine Park and Soko Islands Marine Park. In addition, the Department was also preparing for the designation of the proposed compensation marine park in the waters of Soko Islands and Shek Kwu Chau, with an area of at least 700 hectares, which is as a condition in the Environmental Permit for the Integrated Waste Management Facilities Phase 1 Project.
In 2016-17, 20 hill fires occurred over an area of 306 hectares with 1 085 trees damaged within or adjacent to country parks. More cases of the hill fires occurred in Lam Tsuen Country Park and the area damaged was relatively large. Rehabilitation planting programme in areas damaged by hill fires and various fire prevention measures had been implemented.
To enrich local plant diversity, the Department continued to produce and plant seedlings of native tree species. Major native species planted included Castanopsis (Castanopsis fissa), Gordonia (Gordonia axillaris), Sweet Gum (Liquidambar formosana), Zhejiang Machilus (Machilus chekiangensis), Many-nerved Machilus (Machilus pauhoi) and Chinese Gugertree (Schima superba). Among the seedlings planted, over 80% were native species.
Seedlings are produced in Tai Tong Nursery for tree planting in country parks. Located in the Tai Lam Country Park with an area of 9.5 hectares, the nursery produced over 403 600 seedlings of more than 100 species in 2016-17.
COUNTRY PARK PLANTATION ENRICHMENT PROJECT
In the early years, exotic pioneer species were planted to prevent soil erosion and to quickly restore vegetation cover. This objective has been achieved with sustained efforts in the last few decades.
With time, existing plantations in country parks are facing problems such as aging, lack of growing and slow natural regeneration of native plants, etc. In order to enhance the landscape and ecological value of these existing plantations, the Department launched the Country Park Plantation Enrichment Project (PEP) in 2009 to enrich the overall value of country park plantations. During the dry season of 2016, about 7 300 exotic trees within plantation areas were removed under the PEP. Over 16 000 suitable native tree seedlings were planted in the plantation areas in the following planting season. It is expected that the newly planted seedlings would gradually establish in the plantation, and eventually replace all the exotic species.
In order to further promote the importance and benefits of the PEP on increasing the biodiversity and ecological value of plantations to wider sectors of the society, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were invited to participate in the PEP in 2016. In 2016-17, three NGOs joined and committed to take up tree planting and tending works in selected suitable PEP sites identified by the Department.
The Department will continue to invite NGOs to participate in the PEP in coming years.
To improve tree management in Hong Kong for public safety, the Department has stepped up efforts in tree inspection, risk assessment and tree maintenance at the recreation sites of country parks and the areas adjacent to non-expressway public roads. Over 38 300 trees (involving about 1 050 sites and 660 tree groups adjacent to public roads) and six Old and Valuable Trees have been inspected. During the year, tree management measures such as pruning and thinning, were prescribed for trees in poor health conditions or with high potential danger to the public. Tree management work was carried out by qualified and experienced in-house staff.
MOUNTAIN BIKE ACTIVITIES
Construction of new mountain bike trails (MBT) at the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir Section and re-routed MBT at the Ho Pui Section have been commerced this year with an aim of adding about 1 kilometre of MBT in the Tai Lam Country Park in 2016-17. Major improvements to specific sections of the two MBT were also carried out to enhance bikers’ safety, riding experience and the sustainability of the MBTs in accordance with the standards set by the International Mountain Bicycling Association. The new MBT section and re-route are scheduled to open in September 2017. Upon the completion of the improvement works, the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir Section will be rated as “green” level , which is an easy trail suitable for beginner cyclists. The Ho Pui section shall remains at “black diamond” level and is a very difficult trail that requires users to be experienced and possess advanced skills.
HONG KONG UNESCO GLOBAL GEOPARK
Located in the eastern part of Hong Kong and extended from the northeast New Territories to the Sai Kung area, Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark (HKUGG) is a single entity where sites and landscapes of international significance are holistically managed with the support of local communities and other geopark stakeholders. With the objectives of conservation, education and sustainable development, the geopark in Hong Kong protects Hong Kong’s rich geological resources, many of which are of high research, tourism, educational and scenic value.
To ensure the HKUGG benefits the environment, local people and the economy, the Department works closely with local communities and non-government organisations. There are three local geoheritage centres managed by local communities and a Volcano Discovery Centre (VDC) operated by a local community organisation. Served as a gateway to HKUGG, the VDC facilitated around 140 000 visitors to explore the geopark in 2016-17. The Department continued to explore opportunities to engage local communities in new geopark initiatives.
The HKUGG strives to enhance the accessibility to geo-sites. Other than the Kaito ferry service between Ma Liu Shui and Lai Chi Wo which commenced operation in January 2016, a new guided tour with shuttle bus services to the High Island Reservoir East Dam was also launched in July 2016. Both initiatives significantly enhanced the accessibility to the geo-sites and demonstrated the cooperation between the government and the local communities.
To promote nature conservation and address the needs of the local communities in a sustainable way, the HKUGG supports and collaborates with the local communities and stakeholders in the geopark through a series of capacity building and partnership projects. For example, local people have been engaged in the “Sustainable Lai Chi Wo Project”, the Signature Project Scheme (North District) and the Chief Executive’s Community Project at Lai Chi Wo.
The HKUGG is not only about co-operation with the local communities, but also about co-operating with other UNESCO Global Geoparks for knowledge exchange and experience sharing. On global networking, the HKUGG attended the 7th International Conference and the 1st General Assembly on UNESCO Global Geoparks at the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark in the United Kingdom in September 2016.
Among the year, the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark School Programme continued to be a major science-popularisation initiatives, the HKUGG also collaborated with local universities and offered training and work opportunities at HKUGG’s visitor centres and two geoheritage centres. In addition, HKUGG organised a series of talks in Hong Kong to promote the geopark concept and to help students develop effective science transfer skills.
MANAGEMENT OF MARINE PARKS
To cope with the rising number of visitors to our Marine Parks, the Department has adopted a series of measures including strengthening patrols, assigning volunteers to disseminate codes for visitors, arrangement of guided activities and publication of educational materials. Law enforcement action was also stepped up to combat illegal activities.
NATURE CONSERVATION EDUCATION
In 2015-16, the Department conducted a series of conservation activities for over 340 000 local students, teachers and nature lovers. The Department continued to carry out the Country Parks Education Programme “Nature in Touch” to strengthen the educational resources on nature conservation in country parks. This programme aimed at promoting a better understanding of country parks, biodiversity, flora conservation and geological characteristics in Hong Kong, thus enhancing public awareness of the importance in protecting the natural environment. The programme included a series of countryside learning activities for students and nature appreciation activities for the public.
School education programme implemented in the year included Country Parks Orienteering, Kindergarten, Primary School and Secondary School Visits, Country Parks Day Camp, school eco-tours and teacher’s workshops.
During the year, a wide variety of public education activities including Nature Education Centre and outdoor guided tours, “Nature in touch” workshops, family day programme, public lectures and roving exhibitions were held.
In addition, a number of hiking events including “Hiking and Planting Day”, “Green Walk”, “CAS Hiking Safety Promotion Day” and “Keep Fit Party Hiking Event” were held to introduce to the public the fun of hiking and the associated safety knowledge.
With a view to nurturing among the public an environmentally responsible habit of taking away waste after hiking in country parks, the Department launched the public education programme “Take Your Litter Home” in September 2015 with the support of green groups and hiking groups. The programme has yielded satisfactory results and rolled forward into a second phase in September 2016. The total number of litter containers and recycle bins on hiking trails in country parks has been reduced by half. The Department has also stepped up publicity to further encourage the public to take their waste away after visiting the country parks.
During the year, 143 volunteers had completed the basic volunteer training under the Country Park Volunteer Scheme. A total of 630 trained volunteers served 28 714 man hours in the country parks conservation and education activities including publicity events, roving exhibitions, guided tours, hiking route patrols, and vegetation management.
MARINE CONSERVATION EDUCATION
The Department organised a variety of marine conservation education activities targeting various sectors of the community. During the year, 89 public eco-tours, 13 public seminars, eight beach clean-up activities, two competition, 23 school lectures, 42 exhibitions and three other kinds of educational activities were held, benefiting over 56 100 participants.
During the year, a total of 118 Marine Parks Ambassador participated in six volunteer service, four activities and two training sessions to help promote marine conservation.
To promote the beauty of marine life and habitats as well as enhance public awareness of the importance in conservation of our marine environment, the Department and the Hong Kong Underwater Association co-organised the “Hong Kong Underwater Photo and Video Competition 2016” from May to October 2016. The competition was well-received with a total of 443 entries submitted. The winning entries were exhibited in roving exhibitions at Olympic House, the Education University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Wetland Park and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre between October and December 2016.
In collaboration with the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong, Guangdong Oceanic and Fisheries Department and the Macao Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau, the Department organised “Tomorrow’s Ocean – Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Marine Life Drawing Competition 2016”. The responses were overwhelming with over 8 600 drawings were received.
The Department organised 15 dolphin field trips for 1 069 secondary school teachers and students in collaboration with the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong in 2015-16. The field trips provided opportunities for students to watch Chinese white dolphins and to learn more about marine conservation.
During the year, the Department organised a series of publicity and educational activities under the Ting Kok Coastal Conservation Plan. These activities included the creation of a website, publication of pamphlets, designation of tour routes and provision of eco-tour, coastal clean-up, workshop, roving exhibition and a nature appreciation programme “Ting Kok + Whole Year Appreciation 2016”.
Park wardens patrol country parks and special areas on a regular basis to provide visitor services and to enforce the Country Parks Ordinance (Cap 208) and related legislation. In 2016-17, there were 807 concluded prosecution cases in relation to offences in countryside. Statistics are at Appendix 14. Park wardens and nature wardens also conduct frequent special operations in the country parks, such as searching for illegal animal traps, visiting villages for the promotion of fire prevention, enforcing prohibition of feeding wild animals and assisting the Police in search-and-rescue exercises. Regular joint operations with the Police are undertaken to combat crimes, such as illegal felling of Incense Trees.
In marine parks and marine reserve, wardens patrol on a daily basis, watching out for any illegal fishing activities. Close liaison is also maintained with the Marine Police and the Fisheries Authority of Shenzhen to combat illegal fishing by Mainland fishermen in marine parks. Wardens give advice or warnings to visitors and institute prosecutions when necessary. In 2016-17, 16 prosecutions were instituted against illegal fishing activities in marine parks.
During the year, the Department continued to coordinate the annual Reef Check in collaboration with the Reef Check Foundation. Thirty-three coral sites were surveyed with the assistance of over 750 volunteer divers. Nineteen of these coral sites recorded high coral cover (i.e. more than 50%) and the growth of corals at all sites was stable. Results of the Reef Check were publicised to enhance public awareness of the current status of our marine environment and to seek the public's cooperation in protecting our valuable marine resources. The findings also provided the Department with important information on the health status of corals so that appropriate actions could be taken to protect them.
Conservation of Corals
Specially designed marker buoys were installed at Ung Kong Wan, Sharp Island West, Sharp Island East, South Ninepin, Shelter Island and Port Island, for better protection of corals from anchoring damage. Regular sea patrols and underwater ecological surveys are also conducted to monitor the effectiveness of the coral marker buoys in these areas, and the results to date are encouraging. There has been an overall increase in live coral cover in the marker buoy area. Damaged corals have shown signs of recovery.
Conservation of Marine Mammals
There are some 2 500 dolphins living in the Pearl River Estuary including about 1 300-1 500 dolphins living in the eastern part of the Pearl River Estuary and Hong Kong waters. A study commissioned by the Department on long-term monitoring of marine mammals in Hong Kong, as one of the conservation measures implemented under the conservation programme for the Chinese white dolphin, detected reduced abundance of dolphins in Hong Kong waters in recent years. The estimated total number of Chinese white dolphin in Hong Kong waters in the four survey areas comprising Southwest, West, Northwest, and Northeast Lantau waters was 47. This figure was lower than the estimates for the last five years i.e. 88, 80, 73, 87 and 65 in 2011 to 2015 respectively). With the decline in the habitat use of Chinese white dolphin in North Lantau waters in recent years and a corresponding increase in habitat use in West and Southwest Lantau waters, Southwest Lantau has become an important dolphin habitat in Hong Kong. Conservation actions including habitat protection and management, long-term monitoring of the dolphin population, investigation of dolphin stranding, promotion of public awareness of dolphin conservation, and liaison with the Guangdong authorities to exchange information on the conservation of the species are being pursued. Variations and trends in abundance of dolphins in Hong Kong waters during recent years are closely monitored. The Department will look into possible causes of the decline in dolphin population and formulate follow-up measures.
During the year, the Department continued to collaborate with the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation to investigate every reported dolphin stranding in Hong Kong. Tissue samples from the carcasses were collected for further studies. The Department continued to hold exhibitions and seminars as well as to distribute posters and leaflets to promote conservation of marine mammals, and publicise the code of conduct on dolphin watching and the dolphin stranding hotline. Through these efforts, the public gradually deepened their understanding of marine mammals.
Underwater Ecological Surveys
In 2011, the Department formed a diving team for underwater ecological survey comprising staff members experienced in SCUBA diving and underwater ecological survey. During the year, the diving team monitored coral ecology and algae diversity.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT STUDIES
The Department regularly provides comments and advice on development proposals and projects as well as Environmental Impact Assessment studies to ensure that potential impacts of development projects on the marine environment and ecology would be adequately addressed, evaluated and minimised through effective mitigation.