An ambitious plan to build 25 new islands and use landfills to add 1,500 hectares of land to the city of Hong Kong has some fearing a devastating impact on the local ecology, not to mention economy.
When creating new islands through methods like dredging, there can be a big environmental impact – and when the project is of the enormous scale that Hong Kong is proposing, it may completely change the local environment. Cramped quarters and skyrocketing real estate prices have led the city to put forth an incredibly ambitious proposal to create an additional 1,500 hectares of usable land, with space for millions more residents. This would let some of the pressure out of Hong Kong’s burgeoning population boom, but local environmentalists and many citizens are taking issue with the plan.
The concerns raised are that the proposed landfills would destroy the existing shoreline, which is currently being used by fishermen and sailors, and where sea creatures like turtles and dolphins are frequently seen. Several offshore islands, including Poi Toi, Hei Ling and Beaufort, are targeted for expansion and the addition of new islands in their vicinity, potentially threatening coral habitats, mangroves, and rare endemic species like Romer’s tree frog.
As a small and densely populated area, Hong Kong has a long tradition of land reclamation. From 1889 to 2011, the city increased its total land area by about 6%, adding almost 7,000 hectares to support its growing population and manufacturing industries. Perhaps the most striking new addition has been Hong Kong’s airport, which opened it 1998 to replace the old one, which saw planes flying perilously close above a populous neighbourhood. The new airport is found on a mostly-reclaimed island located out in the South China Sea, and now handles more than 53 million passengers a year.
Critics say that the extent of the proposed land reclamation is unnecessary, given that with Hong Kong’s low birth rate, it is unlikely to see the growth from 6.9 million to 8.9 million projected by government studies – especially since the population is also aging quickly, and immigration is limited. There is also an abundance of under-utilized land on the mainland, with empty residential areas and an estimated 5,000 hectares that could be used for additional density. One of the biggest criticisms, however, is that the dramatic island-building plan is simply not feasible.
Tom Holland, a journalist with the South China Morning Post, summed up his doubts about the plan’s practicality – and motivations. “It’s hard to conclude anything except that the planners and their construction industry cronies have run completely amok, crazed by the prospect of getting their hands on the government’s huge fiscal reserves, and using them to build ever more grandiose, expensive and unneeded civil engineering projects,” he said, adding: “They need to be stopped.”
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