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Shek Kwu Chau is an idyllic, almost pristine island on the southern edge of Hong Kong waters. Few people actually live there, though the island provides a quiet retreat for recovering substance abusers. But the tranquility of the place is soon to disappear. The island has been chosen as the site for a new waste incinerator.
It’s 20 minutes by ferry from Cheung Chau to Shek Kwu Chau, a picturesque island in the southernmost part of Hong Kong territory. It’s off-limits to most people. Visitors need special permission from SARDA — the group that operates a big drug rehab center on the island. So, I felt privileged to have been invited to the island now swept up in a battle over government plans to build a giant waste incinerator.
Most of those on the ferry are staff and recovering addicts.
Among our fellow passengers is longtime Cheung Chau resident Martin Williams, He’s an avid naturalist, writer and an opponent of the incinerator. He wears a field scientist getup, floppy safari hat and hiking sandals.
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Williams had visited Shek Kwu Chau a few times before, tagging along with US biologist James Lazell, who had discovered two snakes known to exist only on the island — Hollinrake’s Racer and a subspecies of Jade Vine Snake.
“The island has some unique wildlife. Lots of things: bugs, snakes, lizards, sea eagle nests, and the big one is the finless porpoise, which uses Shek Kwu Chau for breeding,” he says.
Upon arriving at the island, Williams steps onto the pier and immediately admires the clarity of the water— “much better than Cheung Chau,” he says, pointing at small schools of corral fish.
The island’s superintendent, Patrick Wu, is waiting. He offers a hearty greeting at the pier. He is a retired corrections officer, dressed in casual business attire-short-sleeved shirt and khakis.
Shek Kwu Chau is laden with intriguing relics of the past.
At the end of the pier we pass through a giant Chinese city gate, past a mural depicting a scene of Qing Dynasty officials dumping opium, and then a menagerie filled with peacocks. Buildings fashioned with Neoclassical and Baroque facades give way to pagodas and shrines. There is a Roman bath, a Taoist temple, a Buddhist temple and a Christian Church. There are white statues of martial artists striking kung fu poses, standing in contrast to emotive female and male nudes reminiscent of Renaissance masters.