Provisional Legislative Council
Planning, Lands and Works Panel
Meeting on 24 October 1997
Study on Wetland Compensation
This paper informs Members of a proposed study on wetland compensation.
2.A number of major public works projects are being planned or implemented in the terriroty affecting wetlands. Some of these are in the environmentally sensitive areas in and around Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay. It has been estimated that some 300 hectare of fishponds and marshland may be affected or lost as a result of public projects.
3.Wetlands are for the well-being of people who live in or near them. They perform functions such as water storage and flood mitigation. They provide economic benefits such as fisheries, recreation and tourism opportunities. They have special attributes in biological diversity and cultural heritage. These functions, values and attributes can only be maintained if the ecological processes of wetlands are allowed to continue. The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention), which applies to Hong Kong promotes the conservation and wise use of wetlands, and provides for the listing of wetlands of iternational importance. It defines wetlands as "areas of marsh, fen, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres."
4.The most extensive and important wetland habitats in Hong Kong are found in the North & Northwest New Territories (N&NWNT), especially around Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay. They include mangroves, mudflats, Gei Wais (inter-tidal shrimp ponds), and fish ponds. Together they form a rich and diverse ecological system that supports a variety of wildlife. With the listing of Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay as a Wetland of Internatioal Importance under the Ramsar Convention in September 1995, there has been increasing public awareness on the need to conserve wetlands. Where in urgent public interest to delete or restrict the boundaries of a wetland included in the List, Hong Kong should as far as possible compensate for any loss of wetland resources, and in particular to create additional reserves for waterfowl and for the protection, either in the same area or elsewhere, of an adequate portion of the original habitat.
5.We have a policy on wetland conservation which aims to prevent the loss of wetland resources and to compensate, as far as practicable, those of conservation value lost to essential development projects.
6.Under the current Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, projects that have the potential to cause adverse environmental impacts such as on wetlands are subject to an ecological impact assessment which would recommend measures to mitigate the project's impact. This project by project approach would be neither efficient nor effective in addressing the combined effects of the projects on the wetlands in areas within the same ecosystem. It could result in overlaps or incompatible proposals and lose sight of the cumulative impact.
OBJECTIVE AND SCOPE OF THE PROPOSED STUDY
7.In order to achieve an effective overall assessment of impacts on wetlands and their importance for conservation, it is proposed that a study be conducted for all the relevant public and known private projects throughout the territory where wetlands may be affected but with a special priority given to the N&NWNT areas.
8.The study would make a comprehensive assessment of the damage or loss of wetland resources resulting from all the projects. It would recommend practical means of mitigation, identify specific areas where wetlands could be restored, enhanced or created to compensate for the adverse impacts. It would develop criteria and guidelines for on-site or off-site mitigation measures for future application and review the acceptability of residual impacts upon implementation of mitigation measures. The study would also estimate the associated cost involved in the mitigation works.
9.The study will be carried out in two stages. In the first stage, the existing wetlands will be surveyed. An inventory of ecologically important wetlands will be compiled. A set of criteria for ranking ecological importance of wetland on a territorial basis will be developed. Potential sites suitable for replacement or compensation purposes will be identified.
10.The cumulative impacts of current and proposed public works and known private projects on wetland resources will be assessed. The guidelines and criteria for off-site ecological mitigation measures will be reviewed. A preliminary strategy and methodology for practical off-site mitigation measures to address cumulative impacts on wetland resources will be developed.
11.At this point, public consultation will be conducted and policy guidance sought to ascertain value judgements and directions before practical models are devised and set up for trial in the next stage of the study.
12.In the second stage, a 12-month field trial on recommended models for the construction and management of restored and replacement wetland sites will be set up to test their feasibility and to evaluate their effectiveness. The models will be refined on the basis of the findings.
13.A final recommendation on the strategy, practical construction and management models, guidelines and criteria on wetland compensation for off-site ecological mitigation measures will be formulated after public consultation with those concerned.
PROGRAMME OF THE STUDY
14.We plan to seek funds from the Finance Committee in November 1997. Subject to the allocation of resources, it is intended that the study will start in early 1998. The Study is expected to be completed within 27 months.
15.The proposed timetable for the completion of the main tasks of the Study is as follows :-
|First Stage :
Preliminary Strategy for Wetland Compensation
and Habitat Restoration
|Second Stage :
Field Trial Results and Assessment
Strategy, Method and Model for
Wetland Compensation and Habitat Restoration
Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau