Eco-tour operators want to break new land but environmentalists disagree,
Despite increasing awareness of eco-tourism, access to some of Hong Kong's most beautiful islands remains limited, but one tour organiser is campaigning for that to change.
Eco-tour organiser Andrew Kay Li-kuen, of the Hong Kong Catamaran Club, wants the government to widen access to the city's islands for the public. Hong Kong has more than 200 outlying islands, most of them inaccessible to the public.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department recommends two sea routes for green tours - one to Tung Peng Chau and the other to the Sai Kung area close to Ninepin Island - but Kay points out it is not possible to land on Ninepin.
Tung Peng Chau has a public pier, making it easy to explore the island. But Kay says tourists can only soak up the scenery of Ninepin Island from a boat as there is no where to dock safely.
'Ninepin has some of the most stunning scenery in Hong Kong and it's not far from Central,' says Kay.
'Long Ke Beach is another beautiful spot, but again, there is no public pier.'
He says the government should build small public piers that can be accessed by leisure boats. The government had said it needed to protect the environments of these smaller islands by keeping them tourists-free, but Kay points out other countries have successfully combined tourism and environmental sustainability.
Kay cites the examples of Yellowstone Park and the Grand Canyon in the United States, where visitors are allowed access and the parks have not suffered as a result. He says a similar policy could be adopted in Hong Kong.
But Matthew Sin Kar-wah, environmental affairs manager of environmental group Green Power, is not so sure. The group organises charity eco-tours such as the Green Power Hike and is keen to promote eco-tourism. But Sin says based on their experience, environmental awareness among Hong Kong people is not great enough to warrant complete access to all the islands. 'There are still visitors picking up sea stars in Hoi Ha ... management is required,' he says.
He points out ecotourism is still in its infancy. For example, the government just launched the Hong Kong Geopark this month, which features spectacular rock formations, such as caves, arches and blowholes.
Sin notes that for the time being, perhaps it is best tourists appreciate natural beauty from a distance. But he says ecotourism does have 'great potential'.