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Our Wetland Guardians

Caleb working with his teammates on daily wetland management duties.

WWF has been actively managing Mai Po Nature Reserve for 40 years, continuously looking for solutions to tackle wetland stewardship management challenges. Innovation and technology (I&T) are beginning to provide novel solutions that will enhance and revitalise wetland habitat management in the years to come. In December 2022, WWF launched the “Smart Wetland” initiative, aiming to identify I&T solutions for efficient wetland management. Under the initiative, a two-year project namely “Smart Wetland – Where Traditional Management Meets Innovation and Technology” has started and is funded through the Countryside Conservation Funding Scheme (CCFS), managed by the Environment and Ecology Bureau of the government’s Environment Branch. In this interview, we talk to two of the project’s “unseen heroes”, Caleb and Shui Gor, who share details from the careers they have built around contributing to better wetlands.
Caleb Choi (Assistant Manager, Wetlands Habitat)

1. When did you first join WWF? Can you tell us more about your WWF career path?
I started at WWF in 2017 as a training officer at Mai Po Nature Reserve. In my role, I had close contact with wetland management staff from mainland China and other parts of the world, sharing Mai Po as a world-class example of wetland management through online and offline training. These interactions have helped me learn about other wetland sites and become inspired by fresh ideas. I started to develop more ideas about improving the wetlands, and got several chances to take part in habitat enhancement work. This paved the way for me to be officially transferred to my current role.

2. Which part of wetland conservation work do you find most rewarding?
Definitely habitat management. It’s just one of many aspects of wetland conservation work, but I enjoy witnessing ideas come to life and making positive changes that benefit wildlife, habitats and people. Since WWF bears the ultimate responsibility for managing specific conservation sites in Hong Kong, we need to optimise these sites to create positive impacts for all involved. This involves holistic planning and using sustainable design concepts. Taking part in these projects gives me a lot of satisfaction. I get to contribute my ideas, see how these ideas benefit wildlife and humans – and then show them to the public!

3. Can you take us behind the scenes of the “Smart Wetland” project?
The supportive and encouraging culture of WWF is a constant blessing. Our team always gets to explore new ideas that combine traditional habitat management wisdom with innovative methods. For a few years now, we’ve been wondering how to leverage new technologies like Internet of Things; and when we were introduced to the CCFS last year, it was perfect timing. This project would not be happening without the encouragement and support of our management and our Mai Po teammates, and I’m very grateful.

An HD camera has been installed in the Southern Hide in Mai Po to enable bird monitoring and surveillance of mudflats in Deep Bay. Water level sensors are set to monitor water level in gei wai for effective and near real-time monitoring and management of wetland hydrology. Caleb preparing to fit the tracking device on our buffalo. The device is used for effective management of livestock and vegetation management to maintain Mai Po’s biodiversity.


4. How do you see technology helping wetland management?
I&T is helping provide more potential solutions for the “Smart Wetland” initiative, and I expect we will see more extensive applications that facilitate our work. But we need to remember that that the “smart” part of “Smart Wetland” is how we make use of the available technologies, not how advanced the systems or devices are. We hope this project will be a great example of how I&T can benefit wetlands.

5. How do you see wetland knowledge and experience being passed on to younger generations?
Working in wetlands is physically demanding and sometimes takes place in adverse weather conditions. I really appreciate the passion of our teammates – they are all willing to devote themselves to this hard work. The colleagues I encounter are very intelligent and always have fresh ideas to make our projects better. I hope they stay open-minded and keep challenging themselves to ensure they achieve the best outcomes. Most importantly, I hope they understand the value of traditional wisdom in wetland maintenance – like gei wai operation techniques, which have been listed as an intangible cultural heritage in Hong Kong since 2014. The younger generations of “wetland keepers” have a responsibility to preserve these traditional techniques and keep them – and our precious wetlands – alive.


Fok Muk Shui (Shui Gor) (Part-time Conservation Field Technician)


1. When did you first join WWF – and why?
I joined WWF in 2006. Before moving to Hong Kong, I owned gei wais in Shenzhen’s Bao’an District. I’m happy to be part of the Mai Po team – by helping to manage the gei wais, I am leveraging my old skills and techniques.

2. Which part of wetland conservation work do you find most interesting?
I especially enjoy developing wetland management infrastructure – the entire process fascinates me, from concept to completion. For example, the development of the southern bird-watching hide – this was not as easy as it looks! Apart from rushing to meet the bird-watching season, we also needed to consider multiple factors to ensure that the hide keeps standing through strong wind, bad rain and high tides. Though it took a lot longer than we expected, it was really satisfying to see visitors making good use of it and admiring the beauty of migratory birds.

3. Have you experienced any difficulties in your wetland management work?
The severe damage that Typhoon Hato did to our infrastructure at Mai Po in 2017 really stands out. The typhoon wrecked a lot of things that had involved tremendous effort by our team over the years. We worked steadily to fix the damage – desilting clogged water channels, removing fallen trees and repairing gei wai sluice gates and many other things. It took us like two years to get back to normal.

4. What do you enjoy most about your career at Mai Po?
The daily maintenance tasks at Mai Po are not difficult, but they do require passion and time to perfect. I really appreciate the devotion and passion of my colleagues for conserving our wetland habitats. I’m happy that I can share my skills and experience with them, pass on my knowledge and exchange ideas. We are a great team!

The Southern Bird Hide (Fourth Bird Floating Hide) in Mai Po was built from scratch, then towed and anchored at its current location upon completion. Mai Po was suffered from severe damages from Typhoon Hato back in 2017.