Response to Government closure policy of Maipo 回應封閉米埔的政策

Response to Government closure policy of Maipo 回應封閉米埔的政策

Response to Government closure policy of Maipo from WWF-Hong Kong
( Eng )    ( Chi )

WWF’s losses amount to HK$1 million due to an outdated and biased closure policy
April 20, 2010

WWF-Hong Kong announces that the Mai Po Nature Reserve will re-open on 21 April 2010. This is the sixth closure in as many years at the Reserve due to the government’s closure policy, which is an outdated policy applicable to the internationally recognized Ramsar wetland and it should be reviewed urgently.

WWF-Hong Kong suffers direct losses of around $200,000 each closure period due to cancelled public visits which, over the past six years, has cumulated to over HK$1 million. Indirect financial losses are also incurred due to public wariness and slow uptake of visits following each closure.

“The losses have a significant impact on WWF’s management and education programmes in Mai Po. WWF is facing the difficulty of inadequate government funding to manage the Reserve by annually having to raise an additional HK$3.5 million to meet the management cost shortfall. Public visit revenue is therefore essential. Lost revenue from the Reserve closure translates into a reduction in our management operations at the Reserve which can affect wildlife,” said Bena Smith, Reserve Manager, WWF-Hong Kong.

“The closure of Mai Po due to single cases of dead birds with H5N1 within 3km of the boundary is woefully outdated. WWF respects the need for precautionary measures to ensure public safety, but we believe the current government policy is more about public perception, and having to be seen to do something, than actual scientific fact. There is no evidence of a human ever having contracted H5N1 from a wild bird,” added Mr Smith.

The period from November to April is traditionally the peak period for migratory waterbirds to visit Mai Po and the Deep Bay wetlands. Over the last few years, the closures have resulted in more than 13,000 public visitors and students losing the opportunity to learn and appreciate the spectacle of waterbird migration during this peak period.

Mr Smith said, “The current policy serves to only disrupt educational and recreational visits to Mai Po, reduce revenue needed to manage Mai Po, frustrate Hong Kong’s birdwatchers and send out the wrong message that Mai Po and Hong Kong is an unsafe place to visit.”

WWF also calls on the government to review the compensation policy, in which WWF sees a blatant inconsistency in policy applications. In 2007, the Mong Kok Bird Market which was closed for 18 days received government ex-gratia payments of $10,000 and a one-month waiver of rent to all the stall holders as compensation for this closure.

WWF has held several meetings with different government departments over the last few years in a bid to resolve the issue, but to date progress to revise the policy has been slow. WWF will call for further meetings with the Environment Bureau, Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department (AFCD) and Legislative councillors to propose a motion for policy review.

The Reserve will re-open on 21 April 2010 after 21 days of closure following notification by the AFCD that no further cases of H5 positive birds have been found within 3km of Mai Po. The Reserve has been closed since 31 March 2010 after a dead Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) found at the Mai Po Section of Castle Peak Road on 26 March 2010 was confirmed as H5N1 positive.

WWF places the highest priority on the health of visitors to Mai Po and our staff working in the Reserve. Since wild birds shun humans by nature, visitors to Mai Po do not come into close proximity to wild birds at the Reserve. WWF will continue to ensure its already stringent biosecurity measures are implemented to minimize risks to our staff and visitors. These measures include the provision of disinfectant hand washes and footbaths at selected points around the reserve, and regular disinfection of site infrastructure.

Since 2003, over 30,000 faecal samples from wild birds at Mai Po have been tested by the University of Hong Kong staff and Government. None of these samples tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus. In winter 2008/09, a dead Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) found at the Reserve was found to be H5N1 positive.

損失逾100萬港元米埔濕地營運及教育經費 世界自然基金會促請政府盡快檢討過時兼不公平政策

April 20, 2010

世界自然基金會香港分會宣布,米埔自然保護區(米埔)將於2010年 4月21日重新開放。過去六年,米埔因發現帶有H5N1的鳥屍而被關閉了六次。本會認為,政府目前正以過時的政策,應用於獲《拉姆薩爾公約》劃訂的國際重要濕地,必須盡快作出檢討。


世界自然基金會香港分會米埔保護區經理施百納(Bena Smith)表示:「收入損失,對世界自然基金會管理米埔及推行教育工作有重大影響。本會一直面對政府資助不足的情況,因此每年須額外籌集 350萬港元作補貼以有效地管理米埔。公眾參觀活動是其中重要的經費來源,關閉米埔造成的經濟損失,會打擊本會在米埔進行的生境管理工作,直接對米埔的生態健康造成影響。」


每年11 月至翌年 4 月是遷徙水鳥到訪米埔及內后海灣濕地的高峰期。多年來,已有超過1萬3千名學生及公眾人士,因為此不合理之政策而失去一年一次認識和欣賞水鳥遷徙壯觀場面的機會。






自2003年到目前為止,米埔約有超過30,000個野鳥樣本被送交香港大學及政府的研究人員進行檢測,沒有任何野鳥樣本發現對致病性強的 H5N1禽流感病毒呈陽性反應。2009年,米埔自然保護區內檢獲一隻蒼鷺屍體,證實對H5N1測試呈陽性反應。


Response to Government closure policy of Maipo from HKBWS

Unscientific approach to avian flu undermines public trust

In her letter of 15 May 2010, Dr Mary Chow informed us that AFCD’s “overriding concern” in closing Mai Po for 21 days on finding a dead bird with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) within 3 kilometres of the reserve was to protect public health.

This statement is interesting for five reasons.

1. Of the tens of thousands of wild birds that visit Mai Po every year none of the 30,000 tested to date has been found to carry the virus, despite an extensive monitoring programme.
2. Visitors to Mai Po never come into contact wild birds  - because wild birds fear humans and fly away when approached.
3. The WHO website states: “The risk of avian influenza to humans is almost entirely confined to those who have had close contact with infected domestic poultry. For people who have no contact with domestic or wild birds the risk is almost non-existent.”  
4. Dr Malik Pereis, a global expert on viral pandemics at HKU has publicly stated that the risk of human infection from wild birds is negligible.
5. AFCD’s approach to closing Mai Po is based on an EU veterinary protocol to prevent the spread of HPAI from one poultry farm to another. The EU protocol was never intended to prevent humans becoming infected by wild birds.

So the closure of Mai Po stems from a misplaced and over-exaggerated concern, and follows an inappropriate implementation strategy. This does not inspire confidence or trust.

However the decision to close Mai Po actually comes from the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), and AFCD are simply the implementers. Last year Thomas Tsang, the Controller of CHP, presented their protocol for communicating risk to the public at a conference on avian influenza. This protocol begins with the requirement to “dispel the myths” in order to calm misplaced public fears.

Yet the public continues to fear migratory birds as a threat to public health, and closing Mai Po (as AFCD has done six times in six years) serves only to reinforce this message. CHP and AFCD are not dispelling the myth, they are perpetuating it.

It may seem harmless to “protect” the public from imaginary threats, but it is not.  The harm comes in the diminishing credibility of the Government bodies that are supposed to inform and protect us from pandemics. Given Hong Kong’s position in southern China - the cradle of SARS and HPAI and a likely location for future pandemics – we all need them to heed the lesson of the boy who cried “wolf”. The next time we face a pandemic how will we know if CHP and AFCD can be trusted?

Dr HF Cheung
Chairman, Hong Kong Bird Watching Society