Black-faced Spoonbills population hits record high of over 5,000, Number in HK continuously declines and the habitat is threatened by development

The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (HKBWS) coordinated the International Black-faced Spoonbill Census 2021 (the Census) from 15th to 17th January. The global population of Black-faced Spoonbills (BFSs) hits a record high of 5,222, which is a 7.4% increase (i.e. 358 individuals) compared with last year. While the global number continues to surge, that in Hong Kong decreases significantly. 336 individuals were recorded in Deep Bay (including Hong Kong and Shenzhen side), which is a decline of 6.9% from last year. The number even dropped by 15% over the course of 7 years. The habitat of BFSs continues to be threatened by development and may deteriorate further in the future.

Global population of BFSs hits record high with steady rise
The Census has been carried out since 1994, covering more than 100 sites all over the world and mobilizing nearly 200 birdwatchers, conservation experts and researchers. It shows that the global population of BFSs has been growing steadily over the past 20 years. Mr. Yu Yat-tung, the Senior Research Manager of HKBWS, said, “The number of BFSs worldwide has reached a new high. The numbers in Japan, Vietnam and Taiwan have even broken records, indicating the success in regional conservation. However, the habitat of the BFSs in Hong Kong is facing continuous development threats.” According to the Census, the number of BFSs in Japan and Vietnam are 570 and 82 respectively, which is an increase of 4.8% and 36.7% compared with 2020. 3,132 individuals wintered in Taiwan, which account for 60% of the global total and increased by 347 individuals (+12.5%) from 2020.

Development threats in Deep Bay lingers, leading to uncertain future for BFSs in HK
Reviewing the census data over the past years, a downward trend is observed for the number of BFSs recorded in Deep Bay. Yu Yat-tung pointed out, "These figures reflect the decline in the quality of the wetland environment in Deep Bay, which discourage some BFSs from wintering in Hong Kong. In the past few years, the government and developers have constantly proposed developments in the Deep Bay wetlands and its buffer zone, destroying the integrity of the wetland ecosystem and threatening the habitats of the BFS.”

In recent years, developers have repeatedly proposed development plans in the “Wetland Buffer Area” (WBA) to the Town Planning Board, including applications for relaxation of building height and density, increase in development plot ratio, etc. Just a few weeks ago, the government even disclosed that the planning guidelines for WBA are under review. This would raise the development expectations of developers and landowners, which in turn increases the difficulty of conserving fishponds and other wetlands. Wetlands in Mai Po Inner Deep Bay, including mudflats, gei wais and fishponds, were officially designated as a Ramsar Site in 1995, and their high ecological and conservation value were recognized. Therefore, HKBWS urges the government to better protect the WBA to prevent developments from encroaching the Deep Bay wetlands, and to actively promote the local pond fish culture industry in order to ecologically, economically and socially sustain the conservation of Deep Bay wetlands. On the other hand, the public is encouraged to buy local fish so as to support the local pond fish culture and maintain their competitiveness in the industry. In addition, the government should formulate a long-term and comprehensive policy for the conservation of wetlands and fishponds in Deep Bay, including reinforcing the conservation of the shallow water habitats and mudflats along the coastline from Mai Po to Ha Pak Nai, such that Hong Kong can be a safe foraging and wintering ground for tens of thousands of migratory birds including the globally endangered BFS.

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