Mai Po Marshes Nature Reserve, Hong Kong
Located at northwest of the New Territories of Hong Kong, the Mai Po Marshes Nature Reserve is a unique wetland nature reserve composed of a collection of historical operations, flora, fauna, and modernized management. Protected by government legislations and managed by World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong (WWF HK), Mai Po has been able to maintain its natural environment since the 1970s.
The protected area of Mai Po is composed of 24 gei-weis surrounded by fishponds and villages. Gei-weis are large ponds dug at the seashore to feed sea shrimps. Each pond has a water gate connecting to the sea for controlling the inflow and outflow of sea water. By operating the gates following the tide, immature shrimps are flushed into the pond, where they will obtain natural food and grow up. Mai Po is now the only place in Hong Kong that maintains traditional gei-wei operations and produces a limited amount of gei-wei shrimp harvests.
The tidal mudflat along the coast provides a perfect environment for mangroves and reeds. This makes Mai Po the richest mangroves in Hong Kong and also one of the largest mangroves in the whole Guangdong area of China. The mangrove provides shelter for birds, food for shrimps and fishes, anchor for worms, crabs and other wildlife on the mud, and also shield for soil erosion.
Along the paths between gei-wais, many plant species, especially those that can adapt to the salinity of sea water, provide sun-proof shelter for human visitors, and food for fruit birds, bats and insets.
Mai Po is also famous of being a haven for birdwatchers. Among the almost 500 bird species recorded in Hong Kong, over 350 species can be seen at Mai Po throughout different seasons of the year. A major reason for Mai Po to have such a great variety of bird species is that Hong Kong lies in the middle of the migratory route of many bird species. Every winter, fifty to sixty thousand birds stop over at Mai Po to "re-fill" food in order to complete their migratory journey from northern China down to the south. One of their longest migratory routes is from Siberia to Australia!
While people often related Mai Po with birds, other wildlife spices are always overlooked. Mai Po indeed has a diversity of insets including bee, dragonfly and butterfly . Some of the species are even endemic or are being recorded firstly in Hong Kong. Tracks of mammals like otters, mongooses and civet cats are also discovered.
Mai Po was first assigned as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest in 1976 to indicate its ecological importance. In 1983, WWF HK took over the management work from the government to kick off works on reserve management and maintenance, scientific studies, and educational progammes. In 1995, a total of 1,500-hectare of area including the Mai Po Marshes and the surrounding area is officially designated as a RAMSAR site under the international RAMSAR Convention.
Because of Mai Po's successful management, nature reserve management personnel from other Asian countries regularly visit Mai Po to receive training and exchange skills.
As a nature reserve, Mai Po is not only protected for birds and its natural habitat, but also applied as an outdoor classroom for students and the general public to learn about the importance of environmental protection. Every year, over 40,000 visitors leave their footprints on the reserve and bring back photos, memory and knowledge.
The Mai Po Marshes Nature Reserve is a restricted area. Prior authorization is needed to enter the Reserve. However, individual or group visitors can visit the area through arrangements of WWF HK.
If you intend to take a brief look to the Reserve, WWF HK offers guided tours during weekends and public holidays. Whether you are individuals or groups, you can make reservations to the tours. For schools, special education programmes sponsored by the Education Department of the HKSAR government are available. WWF HK also makes available limited accommodation facilities for serious visitors to stay overnight to observe the Reserve in more details. Further details please refer to the official website of WWF HK.
A typical tour to the Reserve takes three hours' leisure walk. The paths are in general easy and tidy. At the "entrance" of the Reserve, it is the Peter Scott Field Studies Centre, where the meeting point, souvenir shop and accommodation facilities are situated.
About 30 minutes' walk after entering the Reserve, it comes to the Education Center with exhibits and seminar facilities. Next to the Centre is a Captive Waterfowl Collection, which will be full of wild ducks during the migratory season.
Inside the Reserve, there are a number of birdwatching hides specially built for observing wild birds. At the right time, you can view birds resting and feeding on the gei-weis, mangroves and mudflat without distributing them or scaring them away.
Gei-wei Museum is a wooden hut showing the village house of traditional gei-wei shrimp farmers. Where floating boardwalks are wooden bridges floating with the tide to let visitors go deep into the center of gei-wei and mangrove.
Mai Po is extremely important because it is a fuel station on the mid way of the migratory route of tens of thousand of migratory birds; it is one of the few areas in Hong Kong that maintains a natural wetland habitat; it is an invaluable outdoor classroom for a variety of academic and research subjects; and it is an international recognized site of importance.
However, to maintain the area in good shape, it relies on visitors' corporation not to contaminate it with rubbish and noise. We do want our kids and grandsons able to see the beautiful migratory birds and have a taste of the fresh gei-wei shrimps!
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