As Hong Kong progressively reclaims land for its growing population, how can environmentally sustainable methods pave the way forward?

Thinking

Could environmentally sustainable land reclamation futureproof Hong Kong?

As the government in Hong Kong reclaims land to address the needs of its growing population, how can environmentally sustainable methods pave the way forward? Fredrick Leong, an Executive Director of Environment & Planning in Greater China for Aurecon, shares his insights.

By 2046, Hong Kong will need 4,800 additional hectares of land to accommodate its growing population, which is projected to peak at 8.22 million in 2043, up from 7.49 million in 2020. Hong Kong’s government sees land reclamation as one way to address its population growth while transforming the city into a smart, green and more resilient city.

But land reclamation from the sea involves overcoming several major challenges, including rising sea levels, minimising the environmental impact on the marine environment, accommodating the associated increase in industrial traffic, the need to import specialist materials, and funding this capital-intensive process.

My colleague, Dr. Sing-Lok Chiu, Technical Director at Aurecon, discusses many of these challenges and what they mean in a recent thinking paper here.

At Aurecon, we believe one potentially significant way to overcome the challenges presented by land reclamation is to adopt holistic solutions that help cities become more resilient to the physical risks created by climate change, whilst also offering environmental benefits.

Approaching land reclamation in a holistic way

Across the industry, we see a growing movement towards a Whole Life Cycle Perspective to land reclamation. This approach considers specific sustainable and environmental issues in each stage of the planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance, rehabilitation and end-of-life phases of a land reclamation project.

It is a process of continual questioning at each stage of the project, asking: what could we do to reuse, reduce and recycle to make the land reclamation process more sustainable? At Aurecon, we approach the Whole Life Cycle Perspective process with nine key considerations:

Whole Life Cycle Perspective: 9 Key Considerations

Whole Life Cycle Perspective

Whole Life Cycle Perspective

Eco-engineering for a more sustainable future

As Hong Kong moves towards a more sustainable future, new developments can harness best practice from previous projects to ensure the city becomes more resilient to the physical risks created by climate change and more sustainable overall. A good example of a project is the Tung Chung New Town Extension.

This development demonstrated a strong level of ecological engineering where engineering solutions were integrated with ecological appreciation to create natural ecosystems to enhance habitat establishment and its ecological functions.

Specific design features in projects can deliver ecological benefits too. For example, the vertical seawalls that surround reclaimed land can include cavities and pots in their design to provide refuges and habitats for marine fauna and flora to colonise and grow.

In addition, mangroves can be planted on the shores around projects to provide coastal protection and to enhance marine organisms’ ability to form an inter-tidal ecosystem. The deployment of artificial reefs, bio-bricks and rehabilitation of seagrass beds along the shorelines can also benefit nearby fisheries and ecological resources too.

As we explore more reclaimed land projects, there are a host of other eco-engineering innovations we can consider too, for example creating artificial wetlands to treat anthropogenic discharge.

Digital tools to enhance holistic green reclamation

Aside from ensuring a strong focus on sustainable design, at Aurecon, we believe another crucial factor in maximising the long-term success of land reclamation in Hong Kong is leveraging digital tools.

By harnessing the advances, we see in digital engineering, we can take full advantage of the environmental and economic benefits within developments. From Building Information Modelling (BIM) to virtual reality (VR) to drones, digital tools are a great way to enhance the holistic process in a sustainable manner:

Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Blockchain

AI and Machine Learning are inter-related and have been propelled into our everyday lives over the past couple of years. In terms of developing environmental technologies, they offer huge potential. For example, this technology can be paired with high resolution drone cameras to improve the identification process of vegetation species during autonomous habitat surveys.

With blockchain, we are already seeing the benefits that it brings in tracking the transactions of collected recyclables on waste management projects in North America and Europe. This technology can be explored in the construction waste management process in Hong Kong’s land reclamation works.

Building Information Modelling (BIM)

BIM provides a single information source for aspects such as the amount of steel and concrete needed for reclaiming land, or the budget for greenhouse gas emissions (such as CO2 equivalents) and other environmental impact factors.

During the Environmental Impact Assessment process, BIM can be used to keep stakeholders and the government up to date with qualitative and quantitative data on the impact of design changes.

BIM, together with on-site survey data, offers a much clearer understanding of how to optimise designs to achieve more sustainable solutions. It also helps to enhance resource usage and reduce waste.

Droning on

Drones are quick, easy and effective tools for environmental and ecological monitoring as well as nature conservation. In Hong Kong, drones could be used to monitor the evolving landscape for coastal erosion assessment. They can be used to map the evolving morphology of river basins and estuaries to help engineers understand how reefs change over time and how coral reefs react to climate change.

Drones are also a great tool for capturing 3D data to generate accurate and timely models of a site’s terrain, such as riverbanks and coastlines. Drones can help conduct population counts of various species including endangered local animals such as Chinese white dolphins or finless porpoises. In addition, they can be used to assess the vigour of plants and vegetation, determine soil characteristics, estimate biomass and tree counts along the inter-tidal zones.

From 3D modelling to simulations, digital tools and engineering provide project owners, engineers and contractors with new ways of exploring possibilities, anticipating challenges to develop innovative holistic land reclamation projects in a virtual environment.

Virtual benefits

VR visualisation, 3D modelling and 3D laser scanning could help strengthen safety in the design, garner project support, and ensure greater construction certainty and quality to avoid wasting resources such as time, money and materials. Doing this allows projects to reduce their carbon footprint and embodied energy.

VR makes it possible to explore a 3D model and offer better preplanning to reduce abortive works and predict issues that may arise at the design stage. In addition, with VR, workers can practice and master how to use dangerous equipment without getting hurt or damaging the machinery.

The use of VR also enhances collaboration by allowing remote teams to discuss important issues via virtual conferences. Without VR, changes agreed upon during the construction phase could take days or weeks to implement. But with VR, such alterations can be done faster, making it easier to estimate deadlines.

Future proofing Hong Kong

As Hong Kong is being progressively transformed into a smart, green and resilient city, there are myriad options available to improve the land reclamation process.

By using the Whole Life Cycle Perspective approach, combined with eco-engineering methods and digital tools, Hong Kong can optimise the design and development of land reclamation projects to reduce waste and minimise the impact on the environment while ensuring the city is more resilient to changing conditions and be better prepared for a successful future.


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About the Author

Fredrick Leong is an Executive Director, Environment & Planning, Greater China, at Aurecon, an international engineering, design and advisory firm. He has more than 20 years of experience as an environmental consultant, specialising in environmental impact assessment, sustainable design, green building assessment and certification; industrial pollution control, environmental monitoring and audit; environmental due diligence, land and marine contamination assessment and remediation; waste management, landfill gas hazard assessment, indoor air quality in Greater China and regionally around Asia.

Fredrick also serves as the Committee Member of Environmental Division of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), and the Hong Kong Branch of The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), UK.

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