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Shek Pik Reservoir  | © e X p o s e / Shutterstock
Shek Pik Reservoir | © e X p o s e / Shutterstock
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How a Hong Kong Selfie Spot Became a Public Health Threat

Picture of Sally Gao
Updated: 27 June 2017
In tech-savvy Hong Kong, Instagram trends spread like wildfire. So when word got out that a gorgeous “natural infinity pool” lay nestled in the hills of Lantau Island, droves of hikers and tourists made their way to the acclaimed spot, armed with stylish bathing suits and selfie sticks. The problem? The area is not an infinity pool but a reservoir for Hong Kong’s public water supply, and is not meant to be swum in.

Beginning around 2014, the reservoir shot to fame on the internet as bloggers and Instagrammers began posting pictures of themselves taking a dip in the pool, which is located in Shui Lo Cho, Lantau, an area known for its gorgeous scenery and hiking trails. Hong Kong’s netizens marveled at the pool’s crystal clear water, its cascading waterfall, and lush surroundings.

However, the pool is actually an artificial reservoir made from concrete (which explains why it has a clean edge like an infinity pool). The catchment provides fresh water, including drinking water, for Tai O, a small fishing town on the western side of Lantau.

When the Water Supplies Department (WSD) got wind of what was going on, guards were installed to patrol the area and prevent people from bathing in the pool. Hong Kong’s selfie enthusiasts were not happy, and an article appeared in the South China Morning Post accusing the authorities of being “party poopers.”

In response, the WSD issued a statement explaining that “the Yi O Raw Water Intake in Shui Lo Cho, i.e. the ‘Infinity Pools’ … provides more than half of the raw water for producing fresh water for the Tai O area. We all have a responsibility to prevent the water from being contaminated.”

Some people either didn’t get the memo, or chose to ignore it. In 2015, ten hikers were each fined HK$500-$1,000 (US$64-$128) for illegally bathing in the pools. (The maximum punishment is a HK$50,000 fine and two years’ imprisonment.)

In addition to the health hazard posed by bathers, the reservoirs in the valley are prone to flash floods, so swimming in them can be dangerous.

Nevertheless, to this day, a quick web search yields multiple blogs and websites recommending the area as a prime bathing spot, along with detailed instructions on how to get there.

Apology: A Facebook video posted by Culture Trip titled “This natural infinity pool in Hong Kong is epic” promoted the Shui Lo Cho pool as a bathing spot. We regret having published the video, which we have since taken down, and apologize for unintentionally advising our readers to bathe in a public water source, which is both illegal and dangerous.