The Ark Eden project is an integrated conservation strategy for Lantau Island, Hong Kong. The project was set up in 2005 by a long-term Lantau resident, Jenny QUINTON and built upon ideas and strategies from people concerned about various environmental and economic changes taking place or planned for Lantau, in particular, the Lantau Concept Plan. Ark Eden proposes to preserve Lantau’s ecological, geographical, historical and cultural heritage by promoting a sustainable lifestyle and by providing inspiring educational and eco-tourism opportunities for children, adults, residents and tourists. Lantau has areas of unique ecological value including mountains, wetlands, coastline, mudflats and natural streams. It aims to create a network of ‘eco-centres’ that act as satellites to enhance bio-diversity and link with other agencies to promote a broad canopy of community-based eco-tourism that brings benefit to the local community. Jenny saw a ‘red light’ flashing for the environment and decided that the next 5 – 10 years were crucial for action to be taken. She became an active member of many organisations such as the Green Lantau Organisation, Living Islands Movement and Buffalo Association and worked with the local community to improve the environment. In the school where she worked, she initiated environmental education and set up environmental systems. Jenny chaired the English Schools Foundation Educating for Sustainability Innovation Network, a position she still retains two years after having left her school.
About six years ago Jenny became concerned that many rural schools were being closed down and envisioned these being turned into environmental learning centres, specific to their locations. She got together with a few friends, one a horticulturalist and another an ex-director of Ocean Park to create a vision for Lantau as a garden island. They were very concerned about the Lantau Concept Plan, which seemed to involve a ‘lot of concrete’. Unfortunately her friend, Neil McLaughlin passed away. This spurred Jenny on to follow their plans and the promise she had made to fulfil their vision. She felt she had done as much as she could as a school teacher in a primary school classroom and felt it was time to branch out, to take action and be more in control of what she wanted to achieve.
The project is a work in progress and will continue to grow as time progresses.
Ark Eden is planned in three phases:
- Phase one offers a wide range of environmental education and ecological restoration programmes for students, visitors and corporations and links with other agencies to promote a broad canopy of community-based eco-tourism. Interactive workshops and field trips are led by professional teachers and local environmental experts and focus on local action to solve global problems.
- Phase two creates satellite centres and projects all over the territory that reflect the area’s ecology, geography, history and culture. Degraded areas are restored, and a new life is given to old and heritage buildings that become centres for exhibitions, tours and workshops.
- Phase three envisions larger scale community projects where people work together on sustainable solutions. Imagine an outdoor ecological park, urban farms, whole villages and the city incorporating these values and developing the creative resources we need for the next generation to thrive.
For the past three years, Ark Eden has been running environmental programmes for local and international school students and corporate groups. They have been involved in activities that include sustainability, habitat discovery, climate change, cultural exchanges and ecological restoration. Interactive workshops and field trips are led by professional teachers and environmental experts and focus on local action to solve global problems.
While several of the programmes have been ‘roaming’, the majority of workshops have been run from Jenny’s rural home in the Tung Hang Mei valley. Set up as a showcase eco-house, this centre also provides shelter, toilet and washing amenities, presentation facilities and a large rooftop classroom as well as areas of garden and farming land.
Ark Eden continues to increase in popularity, and already programmes are over-subscribed. Schools would like to send more students, but the present facilities cannot accommodate them.
Participating schools include Hong Kong International School, Clearwater Bay School, St. Clare’s Girls School, Peak School, Shatin College, HK True Light College, PIPS Kindergarten, Discovery College, Shekou International School, Chinese International School, KGV, Singapore International School, West Island School, Gigamind International School, Creative Secondary School, Bradbury School, Japanese International School, Beacon Hill School, Hong Kong Academy, Lantau International School, Pui O School, French International School, Kellett School, Hong Kong University, South Island School, Canadian International School, Kennedy School. Corporates and groups include NZTE, Landor, Goldman Sachs, HK Gardening Society, St Stephen’s Scout Group, British Council Climate Cool Schools, SGI Student Group, Jewish Community Centre.
In its third year of operation, Ark Eden is entering Phase Two and Phase Three.
To sponsor the setting up of satellite centres to accommodate more visitors (Phase Two) Ark Eden has now formed a charity – Ark Eden Foundation Ltd. Several old and heritage buildings have been identified as future eco-centres. Renovations would be environmentally-minded, and the re-using of materials, furniture and equipment would be the norm. Students would be involved in their eco-design and renovation and the setting up of grey-water systems and other sustainable features.
Also on the drawing board are larger scale community projects where people work together on sustainable solutions (Phase Three). Jenny is working with the local government to set up a CSA (Community Supported Agricultural scheme) in Mui Wo and a Central Facility that can serve as a base for regional social and environmental projects.
Jenny feels she can measure the effect her work has on the environment by the number of schools and groups who come back every year and the growing number of guests she receives. She encourages follow-up and action and is monitoring where this is happening. She finds that people who have come to her sessions realise how much one person can do for the environment and are empowered to take action. She gets some great feedback from parents who say their children pester them all the time now! They want a lot less, care more about what is going on around them environmentally and take action to help. She has worked with schools and companies showing them how they can reduce their energy outputs and shown them how to do energy audits.
Jenny says “While Ark Eden continues to change and develop, there is a constant call for the eco-house, ecological restoration, sustainable agriculture and bio-diversity discovery programs. Because the emphasis is on follow-up action and transformation, many people tell me Ark Eden is making a difference. I can see this, and it makes me very happy.”