Hong Kong: Sustaining nature in an urban jungle

Hong Kong: Sustaining nature in an urban jungle

The metropolitan city's economic growth and precious biodiversity are often at odds with each other, but balance is the goal.

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Much like Singapore, Hong Kong's biodiversity is at risk due to a growing population in a constrained space. Photo: Shutterstock

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities on earth – but it is also home to a vast number of plant and animal species that are spread out over 1,106 sq km of land area, including over 200 offshore islands.

Its sheer wealth of biodiversity is impressive. According to the Environment Bureau of Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), the number of birds recorded in Hong Kong constitutes over a third of all birds in China. The waters around Hong Kong also hold more hard coral species than the entire Caribbean Sea.

Hong Kong’s rich biodiversity includes over 3,300 species of vascular plants – including 2,100 native species – and over 1,000 species of marine fishes. It is home to the critically endangered Chinese white dolphin, of which there are only an estimated 47 remaining in Hong Kong waters.

The Hong Kong government has made a substantial effort to balance the needs of its natural environment with those of its city inhabitants. Over 40 per cent (or 44,300 ha) of Hong Kong’s territory has been designated as country parks or special areas, and in 2016, the AFCD announced a five-year Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan to drive biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

ADDRESSING THREATS TO CONSERVATION

Despite this, there are still numerous threats that stem from ongoing development. As one of the most densely populated areas on earth, Hong Kong faces the constant need for housing, facilities and infrastructure to accommodate its 7.5 million inhabitants.

Policymakers face the difficult task of balancing the population’s needs with maintaining the pristine nature of Hong Kong’s lush natural environment. One of its largest and most ecologically valuable wetlands, the Mai Po Nature Reserve and Inner Deep Bay, is where 50,000 to 80,000 migratory water birds arrive annually to rest, feed and spend the winter. Among these birds are an estimated 35 globally-threatened species, like the spoon-billed sandpiper, greater spotted eagle and black-faced spoonbill.

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The black-faced spoonbill is the only spoonbill species that is currently regarded as endangered. Photo: Shutterstock

In addition to providing a safe wintering spot for birds, the wetlands filter water-borne pollutants and take in excess water during the monsoon floods, protecting coastal communities. However, that same ability to absorb large amounts of water makes the wetlands ideal for conversion to an agricultural site. Other wetlands have also been filled in to provide roads and apartment housing.

In response, the AFCD has divided the Mai Po area into zones. Access to the core zones is restricted, to leave the ecological cycles that take place there undisturbed. Less critical zones have more flexible usage, such as being designated for sustainable aquaculture facilities. These zones also serve as buffers to protect the core, leaving it untouched by human hands.

In the last 15 years, urban construction that takes place near or within ecologically sensitive areas in Hong Kong has become subject to environmental and sustainability requirements. The government has also worked with private enterprises to integrate natural elements such as water bodies and vegetation into developments and to promote sustainable initiatives like urban forestry.

Such compromises are part and parcel of Hong Kong’s delicate balancing act between its precious biodiversity and modern economy. For this to succeed, though, policymakers must join forces with individuals and companies that are equally committed to sustaining the wealth of Hong Kong’s natural environment.

BRINGING NATURE AND CITY TOGETHER

Multinational companies like MSIG are playing their part to protect biodiversity for long-term environmental sustainability in Hong Kong.

Last April, MSIG Hong Kong encouraged staff to go paperless. Departments competed to see who could use less paper, spurred on by monthly internal emails that track the approximate number of trees saved by each department. By end 2019, the company achieved almost 20 per cent less paper used, compared to 2018, equivalent to saving approximately 130 trees – 59 per cent of the total number of trees in Hong Kong’s Chater Garden.

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The Marketing Services Department of MSIG Hong Kong with its CEO Philip Kent. The department saved 206,689 sheets of paper (a 48-per-cent reduction) during the campaign. Photo: MSIG

The company also launched a reusable business card initiative that saved over 200 boxes of paper name cards. Each MSIG staff member was issued a reusable plastic card with a QR code imprinted, enabling the employee’s name and contact details to be easily scanned and saved to a user’s phone. This contactless approach eliminates the need to pass around and manage paper name cards. Clients and business partners also do not need to input contact information into their phones manually.

In addition, MSIG rolled out a public green diet campaign, which saw local farmers teaming up with two well-known Hong Kong food bloggers to show how eating organically can help to reduce our carbon footprint on the environment. The campaign’s Facebook posts shared healthy and sustainable recipes and demonstrated the value of organic farming to the environment to an audience of over 814,000 users. From kitchens to offices, people in Hong Kong are seeking a renewed relationship with the lush natural landscape and rich biodiversity surrounding them.

These initiatives in Hong Kong are part of MSIG’s ongoing advocacy of protecting biodiversity and building a sustainable future for everyone. From replanting mangroves in Thailand to sharing the importance of biodiversity with schoolchildren in Indonesia, the company aims to do its part in protecting biodiversity, not just for the future of the planet, but for ourselves and the generations to come.

For more stories on MSIG's efforts on protecting biodiversity across the region, visit msig.com.hk/biodiversity. To watch more of MSIG’s content, visit its YouTube playlist here.

Read more about MSIG's biodiversity initiatives in the region.

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