Hong Kong's mascot deserves greater care

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2007, 12:00am

The Chinese white dolphin held centre stage at the handover celebrations a decade ago, having being made Hong Kong's mascot for the occasion. With the 10th anniversary of the handover looming, not only is the dolphin apparently missing from the official guest list but it is also feeling increasingly unwelcome in its natural habitat.

Plans are advanced to disturb the animal's home in the Pearl River Delta with a bridge from Hong Kong to Macau and land reclamation for a third airport runway. The number of ferries and ships that ply the waters is increasing, as is overfishing, pollution and noise. Surprisingly, the numbers of white dolphins has not declined in the past decade - despite some conservationists in the early 1990s fearing that the animal would be extinct by the beginning of the 21st century. Chances are still good that anyone joining one of the eco-tourism dolphin-watching tours that are available will spot the pink-coloured creature emerging from the brown delta waters.

That is not to say that the dolphin is in abundance, however. Although there is no accurate population data, experts are sure that there are between 200 and 300 in Hong Kong waters and about 1,200 in the Pearl River estuary.

Given the survival challenges the dolphin faces, there is no guarantee that the population will be maintained, let alone increase, without protective measures. The chances of dolphins being hit by marine traffic is ever-rising, while development and overfishing may drive them elsewhere.

Choosing the dolphin for the handover ceremony was an inspired decision. The attention that was given to the dolphin's plight made us aware of the need to protect it. A decade later, we seem to have forgotten about that obligation and it is time our neglect was replaced with a concerted effort to again make it feel at home.

As plans for big infrastructural projects around the dolphins' habitat are formulated, adequate attention should be given to leaving them with sufficient room to be able to continue to flourish.

Hong Kong would become a laughing stock of the world if its mascot existed only on paper, but not in real life.