Global Network of National Geoparks

The urban geopark concept as a tool of geoconservation in a city - the case of metropolitan Hong Kon

Published :November 1, 2007

Young C.Y. Ng

PhD candidate, School of Geosciences, the University of Sydney, Australia.
Chairman of the Association for Geoconservation of Hong Kong andmember of the Preliminary Nomination Working Committee of the Hong Kong World Geopark.

Abstract : The proposed Hong Kong Geopark is preparing its way for nomination as a national geopark of China. The next step is to apply for the World Geopark accreditation under the UNESCO World Geopark Network. This paper looks at the justifications of establishing an urban geopark in Hong Kong. It also assesses the possible roles of a Hong Kong World Geopark in the desperately needed geological conservation of the territory. The success of a Hong Kong World Geopark not only will make this metropolitan city a better place to live, it will also set an example of protecting geology to the other cities in the world.

Keywords: geopark, geotourism, geosites, geoconservation, conservation, sustainable development


It is naturally assumed that geological parks should be located in more remote areas where geological and geomorphological features should be more apparent and appealing. Cement structures and buildings distinguish any city and constitute their fundamental images and unique characters. Seldom have we attempted to use natural landscapes to symbolize a city nor utilize them as tourist attractions. Therefore, the interesting and valuable geological features of a city maybe overlooked.

An urban geopark is a geological park established within a city or in the vicinity of a city usually within 30km or less than ½ an hour drive from the city centre. These geological parks are planned and designed according to the available geological features of the city with the objectives of promoting geoconservation, popularizing geoscience, enhancing economic and tourism development.

A geopark in a city comprises interesting geological spots or geosites which are geologically significant, aesthetically attractive and educationally valuable. These geosites are selected for better management and protection so as to become the windows of the city’s geology. To signify the values of geology as part of environmental protection, it is time to review the current biased conservation policy and strategies which are mainly biologically focused.

Fig.1Location of Hong Kong in Asia and China

2.Hong Kong: needs an urban geopark?

2.1Geology and landscapes - the forgotten conservation elements

There are justifications for an urgent need of an urban geopark in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a metropolis with a population of 7 millions residing in a relatively small area of approximately 1100 km2. Most developments are concentrated on both sides of the Victoria Harbour and along the several train routes which connect different parts of the territory, leaving ½ of the land with little or no development. 40% of these undeveloped lands are designated by the government as different types of protected areas. However, the geological significance and geotourism potential of these areas are not fully understood and explored.

Hong Kong’s new nature conservation policy explicitly states that the nature conservation policy is to regulate, protect and manage natural resources that are important for the conservation of biological diversity of Hong Kong in a sustainable manner, taking into account social and economic considerations, for the benefit and enjoyment of the present and future generations of the community.”( AFCD, 2007). There are ten policy objectives followed, focus only on biological conservation and its associated education and co-operation matters. Nothing have mentioned about protecting the physical or abiotic environment which deserves at least equal, if not more attention. The set up of a geopark is probably one of the most effective ways to encourage the inclusion of the physical element of the environment in government’s conservation policy.

2.2 Geodiversity - unique and representative

Hong Kong lies within the Lianhuashan Fault Zone at the southeastern margin of the Cathaysia Block on the Eurasian Plate. It is a representative of the geological processes and characteristics associated with the detachment of the supercontinent of Gondwana in the early Mesozoic and the later amalgamation of the tectonic Cathaysia Block with other blocks to form the Eurasia Plate (GEO, 2000).

Despite its relatively small size, Hong Kong is extremely rich in geodiversity. It records rocks, geological history and processes from present to the Devonian. Four major episodes of volcanism and plutonism occurred during the Late Mesozoic in Hong Kong and southeastern China. Some pyroclastic eruptions were extremely violent which led to the collapse of volcanic centers and formed thick pyroclastic deposits within the confines of calderas. The remaining areas were covered mostly by very thick accumulation of volcanic ash.

Unlike commonly formed by basaltic lava elsewhere in the world, the hexagonal columnar joints in the eastern coast of Hong Kong are mainly pyroclastic and acidic in nature. These columns cover an extensive area of over 150km2 with an average diameter of 1m each, doubling the diameters of their counterparts in Giant Causeway of Northern Ireland and Devil’s Tower in the US.

Fig.2 columnar joints formed by acidic volcanic tuffs

Fig.3Abundant coastal features

Fig.4Numerous sea caves

Hong Kong is bordered by over 850 km long coastline in three directions with magnificent coastal erosion and depositional features.The eastern coasts in particular, are marked by countless headlands, sea caves, geo and arches of great aesthetic and educational values. Quaternary deposits in forms of mudflats, beaches, tombolo, sand spits and bars are widespread throughout the territory, particularly in inner bays and enclosed waters.

It is uncommon for a city to be rich in geodiversity, particularly in a small city such as Hong Kong.A geopark designed in an urban context may probably best suit Hong Kong’s special situation.

2.3 Biodiversity - diversified and abundant

Geodiversity supports biodiversity. Rocks and soils are vital for the well-being of plants and animals. They form the foundation of all ecosystems. The diversified geology and natural landscapes of Hong Kong create heterogenic habitats for over 2,100 types of native plants and 1,100 animals.Bearing in mind that Hong Kong is only 0.01% the land size of China( 9,326,410 km2),its coasts, valleys, streams, hills and slopes are the favorite refuge and breeding grounds for 465 species of birds (1/3 of China), 240 species of butterflies (20% of China), 113 species of dragonflies (3 of which first found in Hong Kong),160 species of freshwater fishes, 55 species of mammals, 24 species of amphibians(8% of China) and82 species of reptiles (20% of China) (AFCD, 2006; Dudgeon et al., 2004; Ho et al., 2005; Wilson, 1995). Such a rich biodiversity in a metropolitan city is unique and rare.

Fig. 5240 species of butterflies

Fig.6Bird refuge in the NW part of HK

Fig.7 One of the 55 species of mammals

It is time to review the current biased nature conservation policy and strategies which are mainly biologically focused. The Hong Kong Geopark proposal aims at protecting the geology and landforms will automatically lead to the direct protection of these wildlife habitats. The inclusion of geology, will reinforce the current nature conservation strategies to a more thorough approach to protect all wildlife, instead of just protecting a single or few species, within these habitats.

2.4 Popularization of geoscience - geoeducation and environmental education

Fig.8 Geotourism training in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, geoscience is an uncommon subject because people all seem to be living in a concrete environment. One of the major objectives of having a geopark in Hong Kong is to make geosciences more popular and readily accessible by the general public.A geopark can serve as an environmental education and research platform catering for schools and universities.It also acts as an outdoor classroom opened for every resident to understand the geological history and processes of their own land. Better understanding of geology and landforms enhances awareness and protection which eventually leads to geological conservation and better protection of our planet earth.

2.5 New tourist attraction - sustainable economic and tourism development

Fig.9Hong Kong Disneyland

Fig.10 Hong Kong Wetland Park

Hong Kong constantly needs new tourism attractions to maintain its revenue contribution to the economy. The USD 2.8 billion Disneyland Theme Park and the USD 64.0 million Wetland Park (Tourism Commission 2005) are basically man-made attractions with no or little usage of Hong Kong’s existing natural resources. It is a common misconception that tourist attractions must be “made” or “built’. Geopark and geotourism provide a new perception to the sustainable development of new tourism attractions by making use of existing natural resources. Taking advantage of present efficient infrastructure and facilities in Hong Kong, with minimal set up such as merely building a geological museum at selected and already developed site, upgrading ferry piers, improving safety measures of existing walking trails and installing extra interpretive signs, the estimated cost will be modest comparing to the investmenton Disneyland or Wetland Park. The direct and indirect benefits of bringing in more tourists to the geopark areas and associated new towns such as Sai Kung, Ma On Shan and Shatin will be immediate and can be enormous. The exact figures require further study particularly when prompted by the possible national and world geopark accreditation. The direct benefits of a Hong Kong geopark can be in the form of overseas visitors staying ½ to 2 days longer in Hong Kong, benefiting hotels, restaurants and tour operators. It can also be local visitors bringing businesses to transport operators, local shops and restaurants.

3.Geopark: a conservation tool

A geopark in Hong Kong can be used to promote conservation and protection of valuable geological features. It will become an effective tool to expedite geoconservaion in Hong Kong. The effects can be immediate and far-reaching.

3.1Change in current conservation policy

The most important benefit will be a change in current nature conservation policies.

The nature conservation objectives and strategies will start to stress the importance of the long-neglected geological component of the environment, an apparent shift from the sole concentration on biological conservation to a more comprehensive conservation by protecting geology, landforms and soils. This implies protection of habitats for all wildlife instead of a few selected species within the geologically protected areas and sites.

3.2Strengthening existing conservation laws and regulations

The establishment of a geopark will definitely lead to changes in present conservation laws and regulations. These will involve changes in legislation in form of introduction of new ordinances, improvement in the execution of laws and regulations, severity in the penalties to ensure proper protection of geological features. It is proposed that a new Hong Kong Geopark Ordinance, based on the present Country Park and Marine Park Ordinances should be introduced. It will also add new requirements of geological protection in the present environmental impact assessment statements of any future development projects.

3.3Better control of ecotourism and geotourism activities

New guidelines for ecotourism and geotourism activities are to be developed for operators and guides. The guidelines standardize the codes of ethics in carrying out these activities in nature friendly and sustainable manners. They are preliminarily set and are targeted to extend and fit into a law-abiding accreditation or licensing system similar to that currently being used by Ecotourism Australia (2007) or The International Society of Ecotourism (2007). Stronger supervision on the behaviors of operators and guides is vital to maintain high service quality. It is also essential to bring out the proper concept of causing minimal nuisances and damages to the environment while carrying out any ecotourism and geotourism activities.Regular workshops and seminars are organized to upgrade and consolidate concepts, operation and guiding skills.

3.4Designating sites of geological significance (SGS)

Detailed geological surveys have been carried out in Hong Kong for over 50 years. Extensive researches have been done so far in many aspects. However, these study and research have seldom mentioned about geoconservation and geotouirsm values of existing geological features. Up till now, there are no information about sites of geological significance. The information is important as a background data and inventory base for geological conservation and geopark demarcation works. The Geological Society of Hong Kong (GSHK) is currently working on classifying these geological sites of significance into three groups according to their degrees of significance. While the Association for Geoconservation, Hong Kong (AGHK), is working on a geotourism map of Hong Kong based on the geotourism values of different sites. These will all assist to draw up better plans for geoconservation and geotourism for Hong Kong.

3.5Plan for geosite management

Once the geosites are confirmed and classified according to the degree of importance, different levels of protection will be applied. Level I is the highest protection level which involves erection of fences and warning signs, restricting the number of visitors, high frequency of policing, and severe penalties against violators. Level II is the medium protection level which involves some restrictions in accessibility such as setting up of some fences and warning signs with a medium level of patrol. Level III is the lowest protection level. Warning and interpretive signs are the main features which are used mainly for notifying and educating visitors to care for the geological features.

3.6Arousing public awareness

With the launching of the Hong Kong Geopark project, propaganda about geological protection will automatically follow suit. The promotion of geopark will bring out the geoconservation issue.on a frequent basis. Apart from that, an interpretive system comprising interpretive signs, boards and pamphlets of geotrails and routes will arouse public interests and awareness in the protection of geology of Hong Kong.Through more frequent visits and better understanding, people will appreciate and increasingly become aware of the importance of protecting geology and landscapes. This finally helps to achieve the ultimate goal of geoconservation in protecting the physical part of the environment.

3.7Development of geoeducation

The geopark project will also stimulate the study of geosciences at both high school and university levels. More research will be done on explaining geological features and history, geopark development, its environmental and socio-economical impacts. More geological fieldtrips will be encouraged after the set up of the Hong Kong Geopark. The public will also be attracted to visit geopark more often and the concept of geoconservation and knowledge of geoscience will then be propagated.

4.Hong Kong World Geopark

The proposed Hong Kong World Geopark is preparing its way for nomination as a national geopark of China within 2007. The next step is to apply for the World Geopark in 2008.

The Park is located in the eastern and southeastern parts of Hong Kong, covering an area of 344km2 or 1/3 of total area of Hong Kong. It consists of four major zones: Ma On Shan Tourist Centre, Ma On Shan Iron Mine Heritage Site, Sai Kung Coastal Geology and Landform Scenic Zone and the Tolo Channel Geological Heritage Zone. They are planned and designed according to the urban characteristics of Hong Kong in order to suit both local and overseas visitors of all ages and levels.

4.1Ma On Shan Visitor’s Centre

Fig.11 Hong Kong World Geopark Visitor’s Centre at Whitehead of Ma On Shan

The Ma On Shan Visitor’s Centre is conveniently located in the Ma On Shan New Town. It is about 15km from downtown Kowloon and is well connected by train and highways. A geological museum will be built on the newly planned 23ha vacant and for recreation uses. A geopark information and service centre will be set up to serve visitors in transportation arrangement, guiding services, hiking and camping information. It also acts as an assembling place for participants of ecotours and geotours. A pier will be constructed for boat tours to Tolo Channel and Sai Kung. A shuttle bus service will also be provided to transfer people between the Visitor’s Centre and the Ma On Shan Iron Mine Heritage. Reasonable number of cafes, restaurants and pubs will also be located in the rest area of the Visitor’s Centre.

4.2Ma On Shan Iron Mine Heritage Site

The Ma On Shan Iron Mine Heritage Site can be reached either by walking or shuttle connection from the Ma On Shan Visitor’s Centre. The attractions of the Heritage Site include visiting the abandoned iron mine which was very important after the Second World War until late 1970’s. Apart from viewing geology, rocks and minerals in the area, other attractions include the old mining village, churches and schools. Old mining equipments will be displayed on site. Hikers can continue their journey to Ngong Ping, one of the largest plateaus in Hong Kong. Spectacular rock features as a result of block disintegration on coarse volcanic tuffs are widespread along the trail. This Zone is excellent also for schools as one of their fieldtrip destinations.

Fig.12 Geotrail of Ma On Shan Iron Mine Heritage Site

Fig.13 Old Catholic Church of Ma On Shan

Fig.14 Ma On Shan Village

Fig.15 Abandoned mining tunnel

Fig.16 Block disintegration on volcanic tuffs

Fig.17 Lizard Rock

Fig.18 Dragon Boat Rock

Fig.19Ngong Ping Plateau at 500m elevation

Fig. 20 Sai Kung Coastal Geology and Landform Scenic Zone

4.3Sai Kung Coastal Geology and Landform Scenic Zone

Sea route( red line in Fig.20) and walking trail (dark line in Fig.20) are designed to ensure a full coverage of most of the spectacular geological features of Sai Kung Coastal Geology and Landform Scenic Zone. Shuttle buses connects the Ma On Shan Visitor’s Centre with Sai Kung Pier where scheduled boats are run to bring visitor for a 3 to 4 hours boat trip. The trip provides visitors good opportunity to view the beautiful coastal landscapes and the fascinating columnar joints of eastern and southern Sai Kung and Ninepin Islands.Alternatively, geopark visitors can also choose a 5 hours walking trail on the Clearwater Bay Peninsula from Sai Kung Pier to Clearwater Bay Country Club.

Fig.21 Sea arch

Fig.22 Weathering features

Fig.23Stack in Sai Kung

Fig.24Columnar joints

Fig.25 Cannon Rock - Ninepin Islands

Fig.26East Ninepins

Fig.27 Sea arch of Ninepins

Fig.28 Tolo Channel Geological Heritage Zone

4.4Tolo Channel Geological Heritage Zone

It features the oldest rocks and the longest sea channel, which is also the largest fault line of Hong Kong. It is served by boat tours from Ma On Shan Visitor’s Centre. Both sides of the Tolo Channel including Chek Chau will be visited. The attractive sedimentary layers and the oldest rocks of Hong Kong are located at the northern coast of the Tolo Channel, exposing in spectacular tilted beds particularly at Wong Chuk Kok. Another boat tour is also designed to visit Tung Ping Chau, the youngest rocks of Hong Kong and the volcanic rocks and coastal erosion features of Kat O and Ngo Mei Chau in the northeast.

Fig.29 Twin towers(stacks) on Tng Ping Chau

Fig.30 60cm thick chert bed

Fig.31 Impressive wave-cut platform

Fig.32 Fault on Chek Chau

Fig.33 Tilted sedimentary beds in Wong Chuk Kok

Fig.34 Dog Head - erosion features


Hong Kong is a populous city in a small area but is surprisingly rich in geodiversity and abundant in attractive coastal landforms. Continuous and rapid urban development spawns intense competition of land use. It poses threat on current valuable geological heritages within the territory. It is pity that their values and significance are not fully noticed and have not been taken seriously into account in current nature conservation policies.

Unlike plants and animals, rocks take millions, if not billions of years to form, their damages will be perpetual and non-recoverable. An urban geopark designed according to the metropolitan characteristics of Hong Kong, is going to bear the primary objective of protecting these geological features. It is believed that through the establishment of geopark and the accompanied management, laws and regulations, geology will be better protected through inclusion of it as an important component of the nature conservation policies.

In addition, the birth of a Hong Kong World Geopark will certainly arouse great interest of people to know more about geology and hence help popularizing geosciences. It is an effective means to get people involved through better understanding and appreciation in a metropolitan city where geology is often being neglected.

A geopark in Hong Kong will also verify the claim that tourism can be sustainably developed by making use of existing natural features without investing too much and at the same time causing little or no damage to the environment.


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