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Hong Kong's Mai Po wetland under pollution threat

Mai Po Marshes
Mai Po Marshes  
April 25, 1998
Web posted at: 6:35 p.m. EDT (2235 GMT)

HONG KONG (CNN) -- The Mai Po Marshes nature reserve in the northwestern corner of this city has been a haven for some of the world's most endangered water birds for a long time.

Now, environmentalists say they believe that pollution, blamed on nearby industrial development, poses a threat to many of the migratory birds and could even lead to the extinction of a number of bird species.

With an area of about 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres), the wetlands around the Mai Po Marshes and Inner Deep Bay are one of the largest protected nature reserves in southern China. In 1995, the region administered by the World Wide Fund for Nature was formally designated a Wetland of International Importance.

Traditional haven for water birds

More than 60,000 water birds have wintered around the Mai Po Marshes and Inner Deep Bay in recent years, including endangered species such as Saunders' gull and a quarter of the world's population of the black-faced spoonbill. The nature reserve is visited by about 40,000 people annually.

But environmental researchers now are ringing the alarm bell, reporting the bird population has dropped a dramatic 19 percent since 1996.

The reason, a WWF spokesman told CNN, appears to be pollution -- particularly in the nearby special economic zone of China known as Shenzhen, north of Hong Kong.

"The indications are there was a massive discharge of sewage into the bay that summer (1996) and that for a period of three months, the bay effectively died in parts," said David Melville.

Researchers in Hong Kong say the bay is still dying and will continue on its downhill course unless there is more cooperation between Hong Kong and mainland China. Conservationists say China is holding back what could be vital data.

The black-faced spoonbill
Black-faced spoonbill The black-faced spoonbill is a wading bird belonging to the red duck family and is mainly found in Southeast Asia. It is a migratory bird that flies south for the winter and generally lives in areas of southern China, Taiwan and Vietnam. It sleeps during the day and feeds after dusk.

Environmentalists like Melville fear this situation could be disastrous for such rare birds as the black-faced spoonbill.


"There are only about 500 of these birds in the world. Last winter, we had over 130 at Mai Po. The other main wintering site is on the west coast of Taiwan in an area which is about to be destroyed by industrial development," Melville told CNN.

And he warned, should Mai Po and the fish ponds in the region disappear or be further degraded by pollution, "then this species (black-faced spoonbill) could very well head toward extinction.

Correspondent May Lee contributed to this report.

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