This blog post is written by Laurel Chor, National Geographic Young Explorer. We’re sharing National Geographic staff and friends’ stories about nature to celebrate the Great Nature Project. To share your own nature photos of plants and animals with National Geographic, visit greatnatureproject.org.
Did you know that Hong Kong has pink dolphins in its waters? Or that there are over 2000 wild macaques roaming its forests? Up to a hundred years ago, tigers were still being spotted here!
Unlike many famous cities that are recognizable by particular landmarks, Hong Kong is known not for any singular building, but rather for the conglomeration of skyscrapers that make up its metropolis. The shiny, neon skyline defines Hong Kong to locals and foreigners alike. In reality, Hong Kong, or the “fragrant harbor”, is much more than that. Only a quarter of its land is developed while 40% is protected, including many hiking trails and campsites. Its waters have higher reef fish diversity than that of Hawaii and its number of coral species rivals the Caribbean’s. Pollution, boat traffic and overfishing are, of course, huge issues, but Hong Kong’s abundant nature is an undeniable part of the city’s identity.
I grew up in Hong Kong dreaming of exploring far-off lands and studying rare endangered species. Last year, I studied gorillas in the Central African Republic. When I came home, I realized that I never had to leave to begin with; there was and is so much to discover here. I started going on hikes in places I didn’t even know existed, and I found myself astounded by the natural beauty that I saw. I started scuba diving in local waters and was again amazed by the underwater life, and by the fact that it exists side-by-side with the busy harbor.
I also learned that Hong Kong has many endemic species, or species found nowhere else in the world—something that few people know at all—but that no one knows much about them; there isn’t even a definitive list. I thought it would be a fun project for myself to try to find out as much as I could about all of Hong Kong’s known endemic species. I quickly came to the conclusion that not only am I unable to complete such an undertaking on my own, but that a world of possibilities could be opened by trying to get as many people as possible to participate in the project, too. Thanks to a Young Explorer Grant from National Geographic, the Hong Kong Explorers Initiative was born. I am happy to report that this blog post is the official announcement of the Initiative’s launch!
The Hong Kong Explorers Initiative (HKEI) aims to create an online database of Hong Kong’s plants and animals, with a particular focus on endemic species, through crowd-sourcing. HKEI invites anyone to embark on organized or independent expeditions to find, identify, photograph, film or profile a species and then contribute these findings to HKEI’s Wikipedia-style database. Thus, participants explore Hong Kong’s outdoors while building a valuable resource for the general public. In addition, the website will include a variety of content produced by either the team leader or public contributors, such as interviews with conservation officials or a photo story on a less-visited country park. The ultimate goal of this project is to raise awareness about Hong Kong’s wildlife and to encourage everyone to contribute to science, resulting in a more informed populace that will be proactive in conservation and environmental issues.
The HKEI shares many of the same objectives and values as The Great Nature Project. To recognize this, and in celebration of both project launches, the first HKEI activity is to ask the people of Hong Kong to contribute to the project with pictures of Hong Kong animals! It is an easy and inclusive way for the people of Hong Kong to begin their forays into deeper exploration, and I hope it will ignite a spark of yearning to learn more.
In many ways, the objectives of the HKEI are not unique or new. Furthermore, complete success in documenting all known endemic species is unlikely and probably impossible. But like the Great Nature Project, what is special is the approach to who is gathering the information and how the information is collected and aggregated. I hope this project will start erasing the mental barriers that exist between “us” and “nature”, and “us” and “science”. With projects like the GNP or the HKEI, people will hopefully start to look in their backyards, rooftops and local public parks for animals and plants. I want everyone to feel like they, too, can be an explorer and a discoverer of knowledge. A greater awareness of the life that exists around the city and even within the city would make conservation a more public issue.
I have no idea how successful the HKEI will be, or how many people will actually become involved. I’ve met many cynics who are less than enthusiastic about the project, but the beauty of National Geographic’s mission and philosophy is that they support endeavors that to most seem impossible. Whether it’s through the GNP, or the HKEI, or any other collaborative open project, you should come along on the adventure.
The Hong Kong Explorers Initiative has officially launched! Check it out at http://www.hkexplorers.org.
By: Laurel Chor, National Geographic Young Explorer