Troubled waters blamed on Disney
HONG KONG, China -- Dredging and dumping to reclaim land for a planned $1.8 billion Walt Disney theme park has been blamed for causing further damage to Hong Kong's already polluted waterways.
Environmentalists and fishing representatives claim to have suffered losses of more than HK$35 million (US$4.5 million) last year after contractors dumped mud dredged from the building site into another bay.
Chan Chi-sing's family, having lived off the sea around their home for three generations, have hung up their nets for good after the waters they relied upon turned yellow.
"Polluted waters from (China's) Pearl River Delta reduced fish stocks in the last few years, but Disney was the last straw," said Chan, who lives on tiny Peng Chau island, about two km (one mile) south of Penny's Bay on Lantau island, where Mickey Mouse and his magic kingdom will set up shop in 2005.
"We can't find many types of fish now. Groupers have even stopped spawning. There aren't red crabs or flower crabs anymore. There used to be so much of them at Penny's Bay," said Chan, who has since found work as a contractor.
The number of fishing families on the island has fallen to about 30 from 70 before the reclamation work began.
Disney said reclamation is the government's responsibility and added there was no evidence that problems faced by the fishermen can be directly linked to the project.
A Disney spokeswoman in Hong Kong told Reuters news agency: "To date, there's no evidence that links the current issues that the fishermen are saying to the reclamation at Penny's Bay.
"The government continues to monitor this. They've put measures in place on site to address this issue. They've assured us they are taking this seriously."
Fishermen and environmentalists, however, say fish stocks have dwindled even further since work began in mid-2000. Some species have disappeared and those hardy enough to survive have stopped spawning.
Hong Kong's government, which has touted the theme park as a major boost for tourism, says some of the problems resulting from the project are not unexpected and are in line with an environmental impact study conducted earlier.
"To some extent, the water quality will be affected but we will control the impact to within acceptable levels," said chief engineer Chan Kin-kwong of the Civil Engineering Department.
A 3.24-km silt curtain and 200-metre-long barrier of rocks now surround much of Penny's Bay to limit the contamination of nearby waters, Chan said.
Artificial reefs also will be constructed in coming months in a bid to lure back displaced species, he said.
The government regularly monitors 67 sites around Penny's Bay and has given out US$4.3 million to 1,144 fishermen to encourage them to cast their nets farther afield.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars will also be given to fish farmers who have opted to give up their farms. Two other schemes are in place to help those who choose to continue.
Tourism hopes tied to project
Revenues at the amusement park will be split 57:43 between the Hong Kong government and The Walt Disney Company when the park opens in four years.
Expected to bring 36,000 new jobs, many observers hope the project will reinvigorate Hong Kong's tourism industry, especially during the current economic slowdown. Tourism is the territory's top foreign currency earner.
But fishing community members such as Chan Mok-kun, 61, would prefer real aquatic life to the artificial animal identities like Mickey Mouse.
"We used to haul about 60 kg (130 pounds) a day. Now we're lucky to get 15 kg and they taste of mud. Our nets are full of mud," he said.
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