Designate marine park now to save dolphins' habitat

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 4:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 4:29am

I refer to the advert which appeared in the South China Morning Post on August 6 (“Effective measures to conserve Chinese white dolphins”). The views expressed in it are identical to those put forward by the Airport Authority defending the proposed third runway at Hong Kong International Airport.

The advert gives the misleading impression that the three-runway system poses no existential threat to the Chinese white dolphin population, when the opposite is the case.

It claims the proposed three-runway-system marine park will connect with the Pearl River Estuary Chinese White Dolphin National Nature Reserve “to form a very large conservation reserve”. Yet this reserve’s conservation objectives are vague, and economic and development activities are permitted. This reserve will be split in two by the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. It offers no effective protection to the dolphins. Also, the three-runway-system marine park will only be designated in 2023, after construction work ends. Until then the dolphins will be subject to large-scale disturbance. WWF totally disagrees that off-site mitigation measures in Hong Kong waters are not necessary.

It is irresponsible to suggest that driving the dolphins away from their habitat for almost a decade is acceptable. They need more safe places within Hong Kong waters, not fewer.

Second, the advert claims “the dolphins are predicted to return” after the third runway is finished. No pre-construction baseline number of dolphins was established before building of the airport began. The claim Chinese white dolphin numbers returned “soon after construction was completed” is misleading: no one knows what percentage of the original dolphin population returned.

Third, the claim that “it is the speed of marine vessel traffic rather than the number of vessels that poses the most significant risk” is absurd. During the peak construction period, there will be 300 work barges plus other vessels using the north Lantau area, making over 500 trips a day, causing massive disruption to the dolphins, regardless of vessel speed.

The government missed its best chance to conserve the dolphins when it failed to designate a marine park covering dolphin habitats in west Lantau and the Soko Islands.

WWF urges the government to reject the flawed environmental impact assessment on the third runway. West Lantau and the Soko Islands should be immediately designated as a marine park to safeguard the future of Hong Kong’s remaining dolphins.

Samantha Lee, assistant conservation manager, marine, WWF-Hong Kong