Challenges on “long flights”: Development threatens Hong Kong bird migration haven

While I am writing this blog, I’ve just realized that Sophie has posted a blog about Hong Kong. My blog focuses on the Mai Po wetland reserve (which Sophie has also mentioned). It may be the first reserve that I went to (when I was 5 or 6), and probably my first understanding of a natural reserve.

The Mai Po wetland reserve locates at the northwestern corner of Hong Kong, and has been known as a haven for migratory birds to stop over for many decades. The reserve is one of the important stop-over points on the “East Asian-Australian Flyway”, which is an important “flight routes” that spans over 13,000 kilometres. According to WWF Hong Kong, who is responsible for managing the area defined by the Ramsar wetland convention, there are around 30,000 migratory waterbirds using this tiny reserve (1880 acres) to rest and refuel each year. Some of them would spend the winter in Hong Kong, in which more than 30 species of them are under global conservation concern, including endangered species such as Saunders’ Gull and a quarter of the world’s population of the Black-faced Spoonbill.

Saunders' Gull Black-faced spoonbill

Figure 1 – Saunders’ Gull                                    Figure 2- Black-faced Spoonbill

Traditional management practice – Gai Wai

One of the special feature of the reserve is its 24 traditionally operated shrimp ponds (locally called gei wai), which are now the only such ponds in Hong Kong and in southern China. Before the implementation of the reserve in 1995, the Gei Wai shrimp pond operators completely drained down their Gei Wai to harvest the fish inside the pond when the shrimp-harvesting season ended from early winter. When the gei wai is drained, the areas of shallow water or exposed mud on the pond floor would provide foods for thousands of migratory birds that pass through. The drain down provides a wonderful opportunity for us to observe and photograph these birds.


Figure 3- Mai Po Gei Wai

The WWF has kept this traditional management practice of gei wai as it can contribute to the ecological value of the site. They practices the winter drain down of the gei wai on a rotation basis, one gei wai is drained every two weeks from November to March (WWF, 2012). This unique system of shrimp production itself is also an example of the sustainable use of a wetland because shrimp production relies on the natural productivity of Deep Bay. Therefore, the WWF uses Gei Wai to educate the public about the significant ecological value of this traditional management practices.


Figure 4- Birds feeding on the Mai Po wetland

Although the WWF and the HK government has been doing a good job on managing and protecting the Mai Po wetland reserve, it has been under considerable threat by its shrinking size and development pressure in the nearby area (Murphy, 2013). The pressure not only comes from within Hong Kong, but also from its neighbouring city, Shenzhen. The reserve sits next to the border of these two cities. Shenzhen’s mangrove forests, which are the upstream of the Mai Po marshes, have been under threat from property projects. The WWF HK (He, 2012) said, “Although the size of the mangrove forest on the Hong Kong side has expanded in recent years, various infrastructure projects and water pollutions across the Pearl River Delta are continuing to affect the Hong Kong side.” If that continues, it would create threat to the migratory birds and also the species that have been living there for centuries.


Figure 5- development pressure on Mai Po reserve (sourced from: Murphy, M., 2013. Development pressure on Mai Po reserve shows need for action. South China Morning Post. 18th April, 2013)

The issue shows the difficulty on managing a reserve that is so close to the urban area of its neighbouring city, in which they have different development focuses in the area. There has to be better collaboration between the two cities to minimize the negative impact brought from across the border in order to protect this migration haven and also the species that live within or passes through.

Roni Ng , BISS (Environmental Policy & International Business)

Works citied

He, H., 2012. Shrinking Shenzhen mangrove forests poses threat to migratory birds. South China Morning Post. 28th Novermber, 2012. Available at: <>

Hong Kong Wetland Park, 2008. World Wetlands Day 2007. Available at: <;

Murphy, M., 2013. Development pressure on Mai Po reserve shows need for action. South China Morning Post. 18th April, 2013. Available at:<>

WWF, 2012. Gei Wai Winter Drain Down 2011/12. Available at: <;


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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One Response to Challenges on “long flights”: Development threatens Hong Kong bird migration haven

  1. Again, it’s great to learn about different parts of the world in this course. Unfortunately, the footnote for most of the blogs on this site identify issues that threaten biodiversity in the long-term. Hopefully the Mai Po wetlands will remain a haven for migratory birds despite these pressures.

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