One of Hong Kong’s big attractions (rivaling HK Disney!) is a park that combines amazing aquariums, education about threats to the oceans and the conservation of endangered animals with extreme roller coasters … a combination we just couldn’t pass up! Also, as a teacher, I have to say that the chance to visit an amusement park with my family on a weekday during the off-season was pretty enticing. We certainly weren’t the only ones at Ocean Park that day, but crowds and lineups were reasonable. We took the efficient MTR and an express bus to get to the site, and started our day with a visit to the Grand Aquarium. I have said many times that our travels this year (and especially our new skills as certified scuba divers) have opened my eyes to the oceans — their beauty, diversity, and plights. Well, the Grand Aquarium at Ocean Park can have a similar effect, minus the wetsuit and air tank!
In the Asian animals section, we loved the pandas — especially the cute red pandas that are more active and playful than their ‘giant’ cousins.
Of course, we also had to take in some of the rides and, on the recommendation of the grade 4 students in Shea’s class at Chinese International School (where we did our presentation), we made it a priority to ride the “Hair Raiser”.
We didn’t buy the photo that was snapped during the ride, but here’s a pretty good facsimile (courtesy of Kaia).
We got to enjoy some cooler temperatures in the arctic animals pavilion.
The on-site restaurants promoted sustainable seafood choices and they even had available little wallet-sized lists of good/questionable/bad seafood for different locales (compiled by World Wildlife Federation and available online). Given their commitment to the understanding and conservation of ocean species, it was surprising to see that Ocean Park continues to prioritize and promote its controversial dolphin show. It is quite popular and I have to admit that we watched it too. It was clear that these captive dolphins have minds of their own as they continuously refused to do what the trainer was directing them to do! It was the last show of the day and maybe they’d had enough of performing. The Ocean Park animal trainers/vets have also been involved in trying to rehabilitate injured dolphins (most recently a protected Chinese white dolphin that was hit by an outboard motor and eventually had to be euthanized).
Our final stop was the “Shark Mystique” pavilion where we quickly realized we’d saved the best for last. It houses an amazing array of sharks, but more importantly, conveyed a clear and important message about conservation.
A couple of years ago, a movie called “Revolution” played briefly in Ontario cinemas. Cam and I both took groups of students to see it. A young Canadian film maker was researching global threats to marine environments as a follow-up to his previous documentary “Sharkwater”. Central to his findings was the fact that earlier mass extinction episodes have always been preceded by the die-back of ocean coral. Unfortunately, corals are highly vulnerable now due to rising ocean temperatures and acidification. A recent CBC news article makes a comparison between ancient and current acidification events.
The film-maker (Rob Stewart) was especially interested in sharks and included disturbing scenes of shark-finning operations. In the Shark Mystique pavilion, there were numerous panels about the unsustainable shark-finning industry that provides the main ingredient of the asian delicacy, shark-fin soup. As someone who has never tasted it, it was easy (and somewhat useless) for me to take the pledge not to eat shark-fin soup in the future. However, with all the Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese visitors to Ocean Park, I couldn’t help but think that the message was well placed. The final room of the exhibit was full of TV screens with young Chinese celebrities explaining (in Mandarin with English subtitles) why they refuse to eat shark-fin soup and asking others to do the same.
Getting to the park’s exit gate involved a cable-car ride across the mountain for which there was a 45-minute line up!
When we got to the front of the line, we were irritated to see most cars leaving with only 2 passengers when they could accommodate 6! We tried to explain to the overtired attendant that if he filled the cars, the line-up would only last 15 minutes. He said that “people want their personal space”. For a society that can pack themselves like sardines into the MTR trains and live in tiny apartments in 50-storey buildings in a concrete jungle, I was a bit surprised to hear that personal space was a priority! But, I guess a day at an amusement park should allow you to escape your everyday routine.
Thank you, Ocean Park, for doing such a great job of combining fun and education !