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Hong Kong : Lamma Island


Hong Kong  is one of two special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China, the other being Macau. Situated on China’s south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour. With a landmass of 1,104 km2 and a population of seven million people, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Hong Kong’s population is 95% ethnic Chinese and 5% from other groups. As one of the world’s leading international financial centres, Hong Kong has a major capitalist economy characterised by low taxation and free trade, and the currency, Hong Kong dollar, is the ninth most traded currency in the world. The lack of space caused demand for denser constructions, which developed into a centre for modern architecture and the world’s most vertical city. The crowded space also led to a highly developed transportation network with public transport travelling rate exceeding 90%, the highest in the world.

Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the First Opium War (1839-42). Originally confined to Hong Kong Island, the colony’s boundaries were extended in stages to the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories by 1898. It was occupied by Japan during the Pacific War, after which the British resumed control until 1997, when China regained sovereignty. Under the principle of “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong has a different political system from the mainland of China. Hong Kong’s independent judiciary functions under the common law framework. The Basic Law of Hong Kong, its constitutional document, which stipulates that Hong Kong shall have a “high degree of autonomy” in all matters except foreign relations and military defence, governs its political system. Although it has a burgeoning multi-party system, a small-circle electorate controls half of its legislature. An 800-person Election Committee selects the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, the head of government.

Hong Kong has a unitary system of government; no local government has existed since the two municipal councils were abolished in 2000. As such there is no formal definition for its cities and towns. Administratively, Hong Kong is subdivided into 18 geographical districts, each represented by a district council advising the government on local matters such as public facilities, community programmes, cultural activities and environmental improvements. There are a total of 534 district council seats, 405 of which are elected and the rest are appointed by the Chief Executive and 27 ex officio chairmen of rural committees. The Home Affairs Department communicates government policies and plans to the public through the district offices.

Hong Kong consists of a peninsula and 236 islands. The Islands District is one of the 18 districts of Hong Hong and is part of the New Territories. It comprises some twenty large and small islands which had a population of 137,122 in 2009. With an area that is 16% of Hong Kong and a population that is 2% of Hong Kong, the Islands District is the largest in terms of area and also the least populated. It is therefore the district with by far the lowest population density of 783 per km2. The outlying islands are notable for a more relaxed way of life than that of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula. This case study will focus on Lamma Island.  It is the third largest island (13.55 km2) in Hong Kong and administratively, it is part of the Islands District.

The northern village of Lamma is called Yung Shue Wan (Banyan Tree Bay) and the eastern village is called Sok Kwu Wan. A trail between both villages takes roughly an hour to walk. Lamma has an estimated population of 6,000, including a significant expatriate community, but few people live on the southern part of the island. Access for much of this part is by hiking or private boat. Sham Wan, an important breeding site for green sea turtles, is located here. Mount Stenhouse is the tallest mountain in Lamma (353m) situated between the two villages and has unusually shaped rocks near the summit.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

In the mid-1990s, the Hongkong Electric Company identified the need for building a new extension to its power station in Lamma to cope with the growth of Hong Kong as it entered the 21st century. To minimise the environmental impacts of the new generating facilities, the company decided to adopt the gas-fired combined cycle technology for the extension. Located at a reclaimed 22-hectare site south of their existing power station, the extension was planned to have six gas-fired combined cycle units with a total generating capacity of 1,800 MW. The first 335 MW unit was synchronised in July 2006 and started its commercial operation in October 2006, bringing the total installed capacity of Lamma power station to 3,736 MW.

The first commercial-scale wind turbine in Hong Kong was installed by the same company at Tai Ling on Lamma and was inaugurated in February 2006. It is a Nordex N50 machine with a rotor diameter of 50m and hub height of 46m. The rated power of the turbine is 800 kW and it is a stall-regulated, up-wind type, horizontal axis wind turbine. The design, construction and commissioning of this turbine is detailed in this booklet. There is also an exhibition centre next to the wind turbine explaining its operation as well as major types of renewable energy and their applications in Hong Kong and other parts of the world.

In July 2010 the company formally started up Hong Kong’s biggest solar power project as part of efforts to help cut air pollution. The system comprises 5,500 amorphous silicon thin film photovoltaic panels placed on the roof of Lamma power station that are capable of generating a total of 550 kW. This HK$23 million project will produce enough electricity for 150 families for a year and cut 520 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Their capacity may be expanded to 1 MW and the company is also planning a wind farm off the coast of Lamma in 2015 to further reduce emissions. This project could cost as much as HK$3 billion and would produce about 100 MW of electricity.

There are wind farms on other Chinese islands, most notably Nan’ao located along the far eastern coast of Guangdong province, which has been cited as another potential “eco-island” - also .  The development of wind power on Nan’ao dates back as early as 1986. As at end 2006, 132 turbines had been installed and the total capacity had reached 57 MW. Another is Nanri island in Fujian province. Wind power from 19 massive turbines provides electricity to more than 50,000 people on this island. With another 57 offshore turbines being installed, Nanri could reduce its coal usage by 67,000 tonnes thus eliminating 94,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. Lastly, Dangan Island has been reported as installing a power station that will harness the wind, sun and waves to produce energy and fresh water for its 300 inhabitants.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

Hong Kong, like many developed places, has seen its waste loads grow as its economy has grown. Municipal waste loads have in general been increasing since 1986 - when the Environmental Protection Department (EPD)  was formed - mirroring Hong Kong's rapid economic expansion over the same period. At the same time, the population has grown by more than one million people and each person is throwing away more waste. This continued growth in waste loads meant Hong Kong was running out of landfill space far earlier than expected. After extensive review, the EPD is now planning to develop the Integrated Waste Management Facilities that will adopt advanced incineration as core technology to reduce bulk waste volume and to recover energy. Organic waste treatment facilities are also being planned to recycle source-separated organic waste.

Living Lama was set up in response to the continual degradation of the island’s natural beauty and village character. Their ‘Stop the Mess’ campaign was launched at the Lamma Fun Day in November 2009. Living Lamma, in association with Green Glass,  has recently started an on-line campaign to ask government for facilities to recycle glass – not a problem one would think since Sustainable Solutions Ltd who manufacture waste containers are based in Lamma.

Water management & Security

There are no rivers or lakes on Lamma and early settlers got their freshwater from streams. With the increase in residents, water supply became an important issue for the long-term development of the island. The Water Supplies Department built a pair of submarine mains from Hong Kong Island in 1983 to provide tap water.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

Most agricultural land on Lamma Island has now been abandoned. However, after discovering their passion for farming, Gary Tse Yau-chit and Gavin Yu Ka-fai gave up their design careers to set up Hong Kong’s first organic herb garden on Lamma in 2003. Herboland offers over 30 different types of herbs that can be bought fresh, dried or as a cup of tea.  Numerous vegetables are also grown organically that help supply the Green Cottage  vegetarian restaurant near the ferry pier at Yung Shue Wan. David and Bing-Law Sanders were even earlier pioneers of organic agriculture on Lamma and went on to found The Green Patch support centre for organic microgardens in Hong Kong and are also leaders of the Ark Eden Project on nearby Lantau Island – see IDP section below. The Produce Green Foundation  established in 1988 by a group of local enthusiasts concerned about modern farming and the environment is the place to visit for more general information about organic farming in Hong Kong. Sensation Organic aims include reducing the environmental impact of food production by minimizing CO2 from transport/packaging and promoting composting of food waste back to the farm to reduce landfill.

In November 2010 the Washington Post featured an article ‘Sowing seeds for an organic revolution’ that reported upon a group of young urban professionals from Shanghai returning to Chongming Island to start small-scale organic farming. Lying in the mouth of the Yangtze River, Chonming Island has gained notoriety as the place where China’s first big eco-city, Dongtan,   was going to be built and completed in time for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 but in the end never happened.


There are regular ferry services to Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan from Central on Hong Kong Island, as well as to Yung Shue Wan via Pak Kok, and to Sok Kwu Wan via Mo Tat Wan, from Aberdeen. It takes about 25 minutes by ferry between Yung Shue Wan and Central. Life for everyone on the outlying islands relies upon the ferry services.  These are currently not subsidised in any way, nor do they receive financial support from Government in the form of capital injection other than through the provision of ferry piers. Lamma residents believe this is a missed opportunity and there would be significant environmental and commercial gains were the ferry services to be given greater support. The boats themselves could be improved to cut emissions and the ferry piers could be renovated to include more retail/restaurant space. There could also be more inter-island services to support tourism.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

Lamma is, in contrast to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, peaceful and tranquil, with relatively natural scenery. Property and rents are cheap compared with those of central Hong Kong. Buildings higher than three storeys are prohibited and there are no automobiles, but diminutive fire trucks and ambulances, as well as distinctive open-back vehicles to transport construction materials. The community’s only means of transport is by foot or bicycle. Lamma provides an alternative to the hectic life in the city. The seclusion offered by the limited ferry schedules sees regular expatriate beach parties at night. It is also popular with younger people and a haven for artists, cartoonists and musicians.

There is much of interest for tourists to explore on the island as detailed on this site  and guide.  Banyan Bay has plentiful seafood restaurants, pubs and shops selling oriental and Indian-style handicraft. The main street of Sok Kwu Wan also consists mainly of seafood restaurants as the village has the largest fish farming site in Hong Kong. Also situated at Sok Kwu Wan is the Lamma Fisherfolk’s Village, a showcase of the local fisherfolk culture and the history of fishing industry in Hong Kong. Occupying an area of over 20,000 square feet, the Village comprises authentic fishing junk, traditional dragon boats, an exhibition hall, themed folklore booths, fishing rafts and dwellings. Sham Wan is one of the five most important archaeological sites in Hong Kong. The bay is the site of an important Bronze Age settlement that was unearthed by archaeologists in the 1970s.

Tin Hau temples are typical places of worship in Hong Kong’s coastal communities because Tin Hau is believed to be the goddess of the sea and of fishermen, protecting them and ensuring full nets. There are three Tin Hau temples on Lamma and a Tin Hau festival is widely celebrated by fishing communities on the island. Cantonese opera, dragon boat race, lion dances and floral paper offerings known as Fa Pau are the highlights of the occasion. Lamma is also one of the few remaining places in Hong Kong where traditional Chinese New Year celebrations still take place. At the stroke of midnight, fireworks will be set off by the main families of the villages to frighten away the evil spirits.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

Lamma is probably best known as the only nesting site for green sea turtles in Hong Kong and satellite tracking has been used to monitor their migratory route. Every year there is a period of restricted access to Sham Wan beach from June 1 to October 31 allowing turtles to lay their eggs. The intertidal zone of Shum Wan is also home to many specialized creatures such as mudskippers and fiddler crabs. Another wildlife highlight is the endemic Romer’s tree frog. The frog was named after the late J.D. Romer who first discovered it in a cave on Lamma in 1952. With an average snout-vent length of 1.5 – 2.5 cm, it is the smallest amphibian recorded in Kong Kong and restricted to four islands. The western and eastern Lamma Channels are important foraging areas for one of the residential marine mammals in Hong Kong waters, the Finless porpoise. Together with the famous Chinese white dolphin, they might be seen by ferry passengers or on specialised tours. There are numerous resident and migratory bird species that local ornithologists keep the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society informed about.

The Lamma Fund was set up by Hongkong Electric as a special community trust to establish and improve community facilities as well as to promote the conservation and ecology of the island. Between 2005 and 2008, Hongkong Electric and The Conservancy Association  completed the ‘Green Lamma Green’ programme. Under this project, over 2,000 trees and shrubs were planted, three eco-trails developed, 20 educational panels established, 60 leaders trained to conduct eco-tours and an eco-tour map published.

Integrated Development Planning

The Living Islands Movement  aims to promote an eco-tourist environment and sustainable development in the islands of Hong Kong. Besides Lamma it works with local communities on the nearby islands of Cheung ChauLantau  and Peng Chau. The Ark Eden Foundation  is based in Lantau where half the land is designated Country Park and offers numerous walking, hiking and mountain bike trails. The Foundation delivers tangible environmental, social and financial improvements by working practically and creatively with thousands of people from all sections of Hong Kong society. It does this through a series of integrated workshops, field trips and camps designed to lead every participant towards a better understanding of the environment and what everyone’s role is in conservation, preservation and sustainability. Community Action Teams reach out to help the physically, emotionally and mentally challenged, and the learning disabled through horticulture, animal therapy and vocational skills training. Eco Teams are actively establishing eco-centres through restoration and conservation of Hong Kong’s disused old and heritage buildings, villages and abandoned farms. In addition, Ark Eden’s Forests of Landau project is planting native saplings in areas devastated by hill fires and soil erosion.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

The Hong Kong Obervatory,  as the government department responsible for studying the scientific basis of climate change, has over the years provided much public information and technical services stemming from its research. In September 2010 the Environmental Protection Department  released a consultation document titled ‘Hong Kong’s Climate Change Strategy and Action Agenda’ for public comments on proposals to set for Hong Kong a target to reduce carbon intensity by 50-60% by 2020. To do so in such a relatively short time frame will be challenging exercise that will require community support and involvement through, for example, initiatives developed on this website that make measurable reductions in emissions and which generate carbon offsets.