Walking along the Aberdeen Country Park, the breezy wind and the singing of the bird provide a stark contrast to metropolitan Hong Kong just a few kilometres away. The rugged relief and the bedded texture of the igneous rocks that make up one of UNESCO’s Global Geoparks might surprise tourists visiting one of the most densely population cities in the world.
“Geoparks in Hong Kong are marked by its proximity to the city centre, “said Dr. Young Ng, chairman of the Association for Geoconservation Hong Kong (AGHK). “It is very rare in the world that you can travel from the city to the Geoparks in about one hour.”
In Hong Kong, 7.2 million people live inside a land area of about 1100 km². However, rather surprisingly, more than one-third of Hong Kong’s land area is classified as country park area. Some of the most spectacular and unique rock structures in the world sit in these parks, including the famous hexagonal columnar rock structure in Sai Kung.
The Hong Kong Global Geopark was inaugurated in 2009, and consists of eight sites, mostly in the eastern and northeastern parts of Hong Kong’s New Territories area. In 2011, UNESCO listed Hong Kong under the Global Geoparks Network.
In 2015, UNESCO will conduct a mid-term assessment on Hong Kong’s geopark. Nonetheless, documents from the Hong Kong legislature showed that number of visitors to the Geopark has actually decreased from 1.5 million in 2011-2012 to 1.4 million in 2012-2013.
“It is important that we educate the public about geoconservation. To do this, we have to bring them to these natural areas, so that they establish a sense of belonging and love towards our natural environment,” said Ng. “We also need to let them know the importance of conserving the environment. Only in that way will they be motivated to help protect our natural beauty.”
Ng made the remarks on a tour organized by the NWS Geo Wonders Hike. This annual event is now entering its seventh year, and is co-organized by NWS Holdings Limited and AGHK. It is an example of how a non-governmental organization (NGO) and a private organization in Hong Kong are taking the lead to promote the conservation of the unique landscape in our city.
“We organize several public guided tours to different natural areas – not just limited to the Hong Kong Geopark – every year, and we also run a training program for secondary school students to become Young Ambassadors for Geoconservation,” he said.
There have been countless efforts to preserve endangered species and natural wildlife in Hong Kong, but why are rocks also important?
“Rocks provide the nutrition and space for all species to survive. Animals and plants are dependent on the natural landscape for survival; hence it is apparent that rocks are the basis for the entire ecological system. When we preserve our natural landscape and geology, we are actually preserving the entire ecological system,” said Ng.
During the tour, a number of Young Ambassadors highlight natural features at points along the route. Their tutor believes this is effective in raising public awareness on environmental conservation.
“The speakers are so young and energetic, it helps to grab the attention of the visitors,” said Sally Keung, a tutor at eco-tour guide training company Earthfavorer.
“I believe our interpretation work is useful as we have demonstrated the importance of caring for our environment,” said Katie Wong, a 17-year-old Young Ambassador for Geoconservation. “It is important that we have to bring out the message of protecting the environment.”
However, it is still too early to say if these efforts have been fully successful. An assistant in the NWS Corporate Communications team told me the participation rate is far from satisfactory in this Aberdeen Country Park tour.
“We anticipated that about 1000 people would enroll in this event. However, only 300 enrolled at the end,” he said, on condition of anonymity because he is not supposed to talk to the media about the attendance.
Paintings and graffiti could be seen during the visit to the Aberdeen Country Park. In 2011, Ming Pao newspaper even reported that tutors and students from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) may have chiseled at rocks with a high geological value during a field trip to the geopark area.
What has the Hong Kong government done to protect and promote our Geopark? Despite multiple requests for an interview, the AFCD declined to comment and instead referred to the Geopark website. It showed that the most notable events in recent months are the opening of a “Volcano Discovery Centre” in Sai Kung and the Hong Kong Geopark School Program.
The centre was opened in July 2014 and contains introduction of the unique hexagonal columnar rock structure and the history of the geology of Hong Kong. The school program is an ongoing effort to reach out to students about the Hong Kong Geopark that began in May 2014. According to their Facebook page, they have reached out to more than five schools since program started.
However, Lo Wing-sun, a secondary school geography teacher for more than 30 years, believes there is more the government can do.
“Often times when people visit the geopark, there are not enough signs that provide visitors with information regarding the geological features of that place. Even if there are enough signs, visitors often look at them for a very short time,” Lo said. “Many simply do not understand why they should care about the geological features.
According to Lo, the AFCD can employ more rangers at the geopark such that they can provide interpretation at the scene. He argued that it would not require too much manpower since there are only 8 sites in the Hong Kong Geopark.
“There are even many retired people who are genuinely interested in helping to promote environmental conservation that the AFCD can look for,” he added.
A participant in the NWS Geo Wonders Hike who has joined various AFCD programs also echoed this view.
“It is useless to continue to add ‘hardware’ to the Geopark. It is important that you really have to raise awareness among the public by approaching to them,” said Paul Yu, a 40-year-old Hong Kong worker who participated in these geoconservation events regularly.
As for the direction of the NWS Geo Wonders Hike program in the future, the vice-chairman of AGHK offered an opinion.
“In the long run, we want to turn this event into a ‘brand name’ like the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon,” said Cindy Choi, vice-chairman of AGHK. “It is important that we have to come up with a way to popularize geoconservation.”
“Only by doing so can we make our geopark a truly world-class place for people to come, appreciate, and learn about the natural beauty. We have to work together to make that happen.”