Editorial:South Lantau Eco-Tourism: Don't Go Overboard

【明報專訊】THE DEVELOPMENT BUREAU has proposed to develop a ''South Lantau Eco-Recreation Corridor'', hoping to boost the local economy via leisure tourism while also promoting conservation, but some concern groups worry that the project will damage the environment. South Lantau, with its beautiful landscape as well as rich and diverse ecology, has the qualities for developing eco-tourism. However, its capacity must be considered. Over-development or an excessive inflow of people can have a negative impact on the local natural environment and residents' lives. The authorities must have a comprehensive strategy for environmental protection and management measures. The development project should also be carried out cautiously, taking into full consideration the ecological outlook and refraining from needless extravagant constructions.

In 2017, the government announced the ''Sustainable Lantau Blueprint''. According to the proposition of ''Development in the North, Conservation for the South'', the government published the ''Lantau Conservation and Recreation Masterplan'' in 2020. It identified some potential directions for eco-tourism based on the unique characteristics of ecological and cultural resources in South Lantau. That is where the idea of a ''South Lantau Eco-Recreation Corridor'' (from hereon referred to as ''the Corridor'') originated from.

This week, the Development Bureau submitted a paper to the Legislative Council outlining its recommendations for the Corridor. The Corridor will mainly cover four areas in South Lantau, namely Cheung Sha, Shui Hau, Shek Pik and Pui O. The authorities suggested turning Cheung Sha into a ''recreation hub'', where water sports facilities, rope adventure sites at the hillside, quality holiday accommodations and uphill chairlifts will be built. They also proposed building an education centre in Shui Hau, where the ecology of the sandflat and horseshoe crabs, which are of conservation value, and traditional village culture and customs can be introduced to visitors. The Bureau revealed that some private organisations and investors are primarily interested in participating in some of the projects, while it expressed that the introduction of market creativity and resources can reduce the cost burden on the government.

Conservation does not mean zero development. If eco-tourism development can be combined with well-thought-out conservation efforts, they can complement each other. The key is to adhere to the principle of ''sustainability'', rather than killing the goose that lays the golden egg. The term ''eco-tourism'' literally puts ''ecology'' before ''tourism''. Ecological value must be maintained first to then have value in tourism. The specific development plans must prioritize ecological conservation over economic interests.

The core of developing eco-tourism is regulation and management, which balances between human activities and the needs of the ecological environment. In the Corridor, Shui Hau is the region with the richest ecological resources. However, environmental groups have pointed out that the influx of visitors and situations like excessive clam digging will have a considerable impact on the local ecology. If the government is to promote eco-tourism in Shui Hau, the first and foremost task is to enhance conservation. For example, the major habitat of horseshoe crabs and migratory birds can be listed as a ''core conservation area'' to bar visitors from entering. Under appropriate management, the remaining areas can be opened to visitors with a suitable limit on visitor numbers. At the same time, clam digging by visitors should also be regulated reasonably to guarantee that the horseshoe crabs would not be disturbed by visitors' activities during their breeding season.

Eco-tourism cannot accommodate large amounts of visitors. The authorities have the responsibility to make sure that the development of the Corridor is sustainable and will not cause significant stress to the residents and ecology of South Lantau.

明報社評 2024.05.29:南大嶼發展生態旅遊 保育為本防過度開發







■/ Glossary 生字 /

go overboard:to do sth too much, or to be too excited or eager about sth

extravagant:​spending a lot more money or using a lot more of sth than you can afford or than is necessary

bar:to ban or prevent sb from doing sth

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