A man-made mega island could rise from the sea south of Cheung Chau as part of a desperate effort to help solve Hong Kong's land shortage.
The artificial island - six times the size of Cheung Chau, which has a population of 23,000 - is just one of 25 coastal sites floated by the government to provide more land.
It was not revealed at yesterday's announcement whether the 1,500-hectare site to be stolen from the sea will be connected to Cheung Chau.
The number of sites will be pared down to 10 by the middle of the year for feasibility studies and further public discussion.
Use of the reclaimed land has not been finalized but will include housing and office space.
The turn to the sea is set to have conservationists, who see threats to wildlife such as dolphins, up in arms.
Other sites proposed include artificial islands west of Hei Ling Chau (100 hectares) and north of Lamma (400 hectares).
The government is also proposing to connect Peng Chau and Hei Ling Chau to create a site of more than 700 hectares. Another plan would join Beaufort Island and Po Toi Island to produce an additional 300 hectares.
Also listed are 13 sites on artificial or disturbed shoreline around Tuen Mun, Tung Chung, Tsing Yi, Tai Po and Tseung Kwan O.
Seven proposals are on natural but not protected shorelines at Lung Kwu Tan and Tai Lam Chung.
The chief engineer of port works at the Civil Engineering and Development Department, Robin Lee Kui-biu, admitted there are environmental concerns with some of the sites.
For example, Chinese white dolphins are found in Sunny Bay and there are mangroves near Tai Po Kau.
"Places where dolphins appear frequently are not included in the 25 sites. We may not be able to find sites that are considered perfect," he said.
Civil Engineering Office head Edwin Tong Ka-hung said the government will consider using technology such as confined disposal facilities to reduce environmental impact.
The public consultation on reclamation and rock cavern development began about six weeks ago and will last until the end of next month.
Tong admitted the government has received comments both for and against such developments but said it is too early to draw conclusions.
The general view is there is a need for more land - with the two biggest concerns being location and impact on the environment.
Tong forecast that Hong Kong will need 1,500 more hectares by 2039 as the population reaches 8.9 million.
The soonest any reclamation can be completed is 2019. Tong did not have an estimate on costs.
Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Samuel Hung Ka-yiu accused the government of being irresponsible in proposing sites prone to environmental disruption while knowing how much harm reclamation can cause.
He said reclamation at Sunny Bay, Tuen Mun and Lung Kwu Tan will scare away the Chinese white dolphins and finless porpoises.
Reclamation together with the proposed third runway and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge will lead to a dramatic drop in dolphin numbers. They have already fallen from about 150 in 2003 to 75 last year, he added.
The former chairman of the Society for Protection of the Harbour, Winston Chu Ka-sun, said there is still land for development on north Lantau so there is no need for reclamation. The city's coastline should not be distorted, he added.
WWF also called on the government to think thoroughly about such far- reaching plans because the list includes areas of high ecological importance.
Hei Ling Chau is home to the Hong Kong-endemic Bogadek's burrowing lizard and Po Toi Island to Romer's tree frog. The waters near Beaufort Island support more than 30 species of soft coral, gorgonians - sea fans - and black coral, a WWF spokesman said.