The plan to create Hong Kong’s largest marine reserve around the Soko Islands has won the blessing of WWF.
But the proposal from the EPD and AFCD also raises questions about the future of the islands.
The two departments have suggested expanding the original proposed reserve around the Soko Islands to include a large area to the east.
The new 2067ha South Lantau Marine Park would be Hong Kong’s biggest.
The proposal to the Country and Marine Parks Authority describes the enlarged area as “compensation” for the controversial incinerator to be built on the southern edge of Shek Kwu Chau Island, HK01 reports.
Additionally, a small area around the two main Soko islands, Tai A Chau and Siu A Chau, would be excised from the park for fishing.
Samantha Lee Klaus, manager oceans conservation at WWF-Hong Kong, says scientific studies have shown a large marine protected area “is much more conservation-effective than the scattered, small ones.”
The proposed new marine park (Source: AFCD-EPD)She told Lantau News:
Sokos waters are known to be the only habitat which we can find both Chinese white dolphins and finless porpoises at the same time in HK… As such, the proposed marine park is going to play an important role in conserving the marine environment and species.
But more importantly, the government shall allocate much more resources to strengthen the enforcement in combating the illegal fishing – this marine park is right next to the HK-China border, and illegal fishing has been reported by many fishermen in this area.
Aside from the marine conservation aspect, the plan once again puts on the Sokos, a group of islands two kilometres off Fan Lau on Lantau’s southwest tip, into the spotlight.
According to Oriental Daily, the South Lantau Rural Committee had argued that the park would constrain “future development” on the islands. But it’s not clear what that future would entail.
The islands have a chequered recent history. They were occupied until the 1980s, when Tai A Chau, the biggest island, was used as a camp for Vietnamese refugees.
The smaller island, Siu A Chau, contains a low-level radiation waste site.
In the 2000s CLP came up with a plan to build an LNG terminal on Tai A Chau, but abandoned it after public complaints.
In 2014-15 LanDAC, the government-appointed Lantau development body, discussed building a holiday spa on the island, but rejected it after CEDD found it to be unviable.
(This is still the case, although the EPD was forced to released a statement last night affirming it after the EDP-AFCD paper erroneously claimed the spa would go ahead.)
A month ago, it was revealed Lantau rural leaders had planned to ship the island’s cattle and buffalo to Tai A Chau. That plan, too, has been rejected by the AFCD because of the difficulty in accessing the location.