Sunday 27 September 2015

HK Nature Walk - Mai Po Nature Reserve

There is a very important piece of wetland that lies in the north-western corner of Hong Kong - the Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay Ramsar Site. The Ramsar Convention's mission is "the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world". Not every wetland qualifies to be a Ramsar site because a number of ecological criterion must be met. Hong Kong was invited to the Convention in 1979.

In 1995, the Hong Kong Government designated the Inner Deep Bay area as a Ramsar site, which means it has an international obligation to protect its valuable wetlands. This 2,700-hectare site is home to a diversity of habitats supporting a wide range of species, and it is a haven for migratory birds to rest and feed. Hong Kong lies at the mid-point of the East-Asian Australasian Flyway and as many as 20,000 to 30,000 shorebirds regularly use the site's inter-tidal mudflats, feeding on the fish, shrimps and crabs among the mangroves.

Mai Po Nature Reserve is a 380-hectare area in Deep Bay. It has been managed by WWF-Hong Kong (World Wildlife Fund, not World Wrestling Federation!) since 1983, where staff and volunteers carry out habitat and infrastructure management, research and monitoring, community, wetland training, education and visitor marketing works.

Access to Mai Po is restricted and you must apply for a permit. To make things easier, WWF-HK organises guided tours for visitors with different interest levels.

Last November, I finally made my first visit to Mai Po after talking about it for several years. It was a much bigger place than Hong Kong Wetland Park and had more birds.

Traditional shrimp ponds called gei wai. Not only do they support lots of aquatic and marine life, they are also a food source for other wildlife such as waterbirds, mammals and reptiles.

The tall buildings in the distance were in Shenzhen. Yes, we were that close.

Getting briefed by a WWF-HK volunteer.

Water lily pond.

Lots of waterfowl spend their winter months here.

The highlight for me was the Mangrove Forest and the Floating Boardwalk. This was in the Frontier Closed Area (FCA) where yet another permit was required.

The boardwalk floated because it was not anchored firmly to the ground. It was constructed on top of planks which were secured on top of pairs of plastic drums. During low tide, the drums sat on the mud and the boardwalk was stable and easy to walk on. However, during high tide, the drums floated and the boardwalk became a little bouncy. This was an interesting design because it meant the boardwalk would always remain above the highest tide levels.

The forest was another surprise for me. I have never seen such a thick mangrove forest where the trees seemed to go on forever. It was definitely quite different from the mangrove forests we have back home.

The famous Floating Boardwalk which lead to a hide facing Deep Bay. The mangrove was within a fenced up area and we entered it under the watchful eyes of a couple of policemen. The distance to the hide was about 1.8km.

Sparring Fiddler Crabs. Did you notice one has a large LEFT claw while the other has a large RIGHT claw?

At the end of the boardwalk was a floating hide and there was this huge expanse of mudflat in front. There were many small little bumps on the mudflat which I realised later were lots and lots of crabs and mudskippers. I finally understood why so many thousands of birds stop by Mai Po to feed because there was so much food for them there. This place will definitely be on my to-visit list when I visit Hong Kong again.

The mudflat at Deep Bay facing Shenzhen. There must be millions of crabs and mudskippers and other creatures feeding there during low tide. There were also birds feeding out there.

How to get there

From MTR stations Sheung Shui or Yuen Long, you can take a green taxi to the entrance of the nature reserve. The ride is about 15 to 20 minutes and costs not more than HKD80.

If you prefer to take the public or mini bus, which is definitely cheaper, you have to alight outside Mai Po Village and walk about 20-30 minutes to the reserve entrance. For what buses to take, please refer to the Getting There instructions at the WWF-HK Mai Po web site.


Access to Mai Po is restricted and there are daily quotas. Please apply early for your permits to avoid disappointment.

For overseas visitors, you can become a member of WWF-HK and apply for a one-year permit. Or you may apply for a single visit permit if you satisfy certain criteria. Please check the latest fees and instructions for permits on the website.

There are guided tours organised by WWF-HK too. Please check the website for the latest information.


This is a great place to visit if you are a hard-core nature lover. Spring and autumn are good for watching migratory shorebirds. Winter is a good time to look for waterbirds. Binoculars is a must, having a telescope is even better. Be prepared to do a lot of walking because some of the hides are located at least 2km away from the entrance. If you want to photograph birds, bring the longest telephoto lens you own but make sure you can walk long distances with your heavy equipment.

Mai Po is not for everyone. If walking long distances to get to a hide, or waiting patiently for a particular bird to appear is not your cup of tea, I suggest you visit Hong Kong Wetland Park instead. HKWP is easily accessible by public transport and the visitor centre has loads of educational information about wetlands.