Victoria Harbour is a natural landform harbour situated between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon in Hong Kong. The harbour's deep, sheltered waters and strategic location on the South China Sea were instrumental in Hong Kong's establishment as a British colony and its subsequent development as a trading centre.
Throughout its history, the harbour has seen numerous reclamation projects undertaken on both shores, many of which have caused controversy in recent years. Environmental concerns have been expressed about the effects of these expansions, in terms of water quality and loss of natural habitat. It has also been proposed that benefits of land reclamation may be less than the effects of decreased harbour width, affecting the number of vessels passing through the harbour. Nonetheless Victoria Harbour still retains its founding role as a port for thousands of international vessels each year.
Long famous for its spectacular views, the harbour is a major tourist attraction of Hong Kong. Lying in the middle of the territory's dense urban region, the harbour is the site of annual fireworks displays and its promenades are popular gathering places for tourists and residents.
The first reference to what is now called Victoria Harbour is found in Zheng He's sailing maps of the China coast, dated c.1425, which appear in the ''Wubei Zhi'' (''A Treatise on Armament Technology''), a comprehensive 17th-century military book. While the harbour was charter in later maps, the first map depicting it in detail is an 1810 marine chart〔(Marine Chart ) prepared for the East India Company by Captain Daniel Ross and Lieutenant Philip Maughan of the Bombay Marine.〕 prepared for the East India Company by Daniel Ross and Philip Maughan, lieutenants of the Bombay Marine.〔Agreement No. CE 42/2005 (WS). (Marine Archaeological Investigation ), January 2007, pp.7-8〕
Some of the first recreational activities to take place in the harbour were water competitions such as swimming and water polo in the 1850s, undertaken by members of Hong Kong's first sports club, the Victoria Recreation Club.〔Lam, S. F. Chang W, Julian. () (2006) The Quest for Gold: Fifty Years of Amateur Sports in Hong Kong, 1947–1997. Hong Kong University Publishing. ISBN 962-209-766-9.〕
During the Taiping Rebellion, armed rebels paraded the streets of Hong Kong. On 21 December 1854, the Hong Kong police arrested several armed rebels who were about to attack Kowloon City. On 23 January 1855, a fleet of Taiping war boats was on the verge of a naval battle against Chinese imperial war boats defending the harbour. The Chinese defenders were ordered away by the British colonial authorities. These incidents caused rising tension that would eventually lead to the Arrow War.〔Tsai, Jung-fang. () (1995). Hong Kong in Chinese History: community and social unrest in the British Colony, 1842–1913. ISBN 0-231-07933-8〕 The harbour was originally called "Hong Kong Harbour", but was later renamed as "Victoria Harbour", to assure shelter for the British fleet under Queen Victoria.〔Macdonald. Gina. () (1996). James Clavell: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-29494-1.〕
The subject of pollution came to fore in the 1970s with the rapid growth of the manufacturing sector. The water club races were stopped in 1973 due to pollution in the harbour,〔 a year after the RMS ''Queen Elizabeth'' burned and capsized there. Studies also showed excessive nitrogen input from discharges of the Pearl River Delta into the harbour for decades.〔Wolanski, Eric. () (2006). The Environment in Asia Pacific Harbors. Springer Publishing. ISBN 1-4020-3654-X.〕
After completion of the Central and Wan Chai Reclamation Feasibility Study in 1989, the Land Development Policy Committee endorsed a concept for gradual implementation of this additional reclamation. It consists of three district development cells separated by parks, namely, Central, Tamar and Exhibition.
The latest proposed reclamation, extending along the waterfront from Sheung Wan to Causeway Bay, faced public opposition, as the harbour has become a pivotal location to Hongkongers in general. Activists have denounced the government's actions as destructive not only to the natural environment, but also to what is widely considered as one of the most prized natural assets of the territory. NGOs, including the Society for Protection of the Harbour, were formed to resist further attempts to reduce the size of the waterbody, with its chairman, Christine Loh, quoted as saying that the harbour "...is a precious national asset and we must preserve it for future generations. I believe an insightful and visionary chief executive would support our stance and work with us to protect the harbour".〔Harbourprotection. "(Harbourprotection )." ''Love Harbour Day.'' Retrieved on 11 April 2007.〕 Reclamation work also led to the demolition of structures of historic significance, Queen's Pier and Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier, to massive public opposition.
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