As tourists continue to swarm into Cape d’Aguilar, Hong Kong’s only Marine Reserve, staff at a research center in the area are getting vexed with trespassers and calling on authorities to consider putting up a wall around their facility.
The Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS), a marine research facility set up by the University of Hong Kong 27 years ago, is trying everything it can to keep tourists off its facility, saying visitors could endanger research efforts and also disrupt the precious ecology in the area.
Intruders and unwanted guests bring nothing but trouble to researchers, said the facility which is located on the southeastern tip of Hong Kong Island, news website hko1.com reports.
Designated by the government as a key research zone, Cape D’ Aguilar Marine Reserve was aimed at furthering the cause of conservation of marine resources and conducting scientific studies, as well as educating the public to appreciate Hong Kong’s precious marine resources.
In order to protect the important organisms and their habitats, water sports and certain coastal recreational activities, such as swimming, boating, fishing and collecting any wild animals or plants, or their parts, are prohibited in the Marine Reserve, except those permitted for scientific purposes, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).
Under the Marine Parks and Marine Reserves Regulation enacted in 1996, violators could be fined up to HK$25,000 and face one-year imprisonment.
Visitors are also not encouraged to go to the place, where 900 of the 5,943 marine species registered in Hong Kong can be found.
But the 20-hectare-wide Marine Reserve, which has rich biodiversity, including numerous kinds of fish, stony corals, soft corals, gorgonian and marine invertebrates as well as multiple scenic spots such as a lighthouse, has become a popular tourist attraction in recent years.
It is known that some travel agencies offer one-day tours to the place. Meanwhile, small catering outlets have emerged to serve the needs of tourists.
As more and more tourists come to the place, SWIMS sees itself as a victim of the travel rush, with visitors asking to enter the facility to use its restrooms or interfering with research work by touching equipment set up by the shore for the purposes of observing and recording marine life.
To cope with bothersome visitors, SWIMS has put up signs to warn against trespassing, and has also begin to lock up some facilities during weekends.
According to the AFCD, there were three cases last year where people were convicted for violating regulations set for the area, including those pertaining to illegal fishing and catching marine life.
Calling on visitors to behave and restrain themselves, Professor Gray Williams, director of SWIMS, said the worsening situation is forcing the center to mull some measures, including construction of outer walls to keep people from entering the facility or moving the center to Kau Pei Chau across the sea, Ming Pao Daily reports.
The last resort would be asking the government to seal off the whole area of the reserve, Williams said, calling on authorities to expand the range of legal protections for the area.
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