Officials' neglect condemns dolphins

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 2:35am

Dead dolphins have been a feature of north and west Lantau waters for many years but recently the frequency of mortalities has reached a tipping point.

Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the Dolphin Conservation Society, and those at Dolphinwatch were merely watching a crescendo of events that I and Jo Ruxton (ex-WWF HK marine conservation officer) predicted in 1990 as part of the white paper reviews for the new airport.

After numerous visits to known dolphin areas, where we identified three independent pods - Peaked Hill, Chek Lap Kok and what is now the foreshore of Sunny Bay MTR - we witnessed all three pod groups interacting with juveniles at the East Brothers Island.

It was established this was a communal feeding and nurturing ground that extended north towards Castle Peak.

Young dolphins were often observed being encouraged to forage up to the high water mark, mostly for crabs and mud skippers.

Recommendations through the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and prior to the handover in 1997, included the creation of a dedicated marine park and a traffic density and speed regulated traffic separation zone in the North Lantau waterway.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge was not on the radar in those days. In 1994, dolphin population levels were thought to be between 170 and 220 animals, including calves, inside Hong Kong waters; and it was armed with these low numbers that the then Marine Conservation Society HK proposed that not only should the above be adopted but a dedicated sanctuary be created immediately.

The department, in what is a standard practice, adopted its data gathering exercise regime and did virtually nothing. Now, the Brothers islands are a stagnant outcrop under the approach for runway 25R at the airport.

The North Lantau waterway has to be the busiest water traffic highway on the planet and the casement works that now define the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, together with the coastal development to the north of Tung Chung, effectively exclude any dolphin activity.

Even faced with workable and rational recommendations to ensure the survival of our adopted fauna, the Hong Kong government has seen fit to side with neglect and non- intervention.

The "cannot" approach remains alive and well and sadly now typifies Hong Kong's role as a bystander to the most basic principles of moral conservation.

Stu Pryke, Sai Kung