Hong Kong's third runway proposal

Experts slam lack of novel ideas to protect white dolphins from third runway construction

Government advisers express exasperation at Chek Lap Kok officials' lack of fresh thinking on protecting dolphins if third runway is built

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 4:18am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 10:56am

Government environment advisers vented their frustration yesterday at the Airport Authority's failure to come up with "out-of-the-box ideas" to protect the threatened Chinese white dolphin during construction of the proposed third runway.

They were speaking on the last of three days' scrutiny of the environmental impact assessment study on the runway.

"We hear nothing new. You just repeat and repeat," said Dr Hung Wing-tat, vice-chairman of the Advisory Council on the Environment subcommittee studying the report.

"You just can't say let [the environmental impact] study pass first and we will see what we can do. Can you invest a little bit more? And don't always just ask the government to do things."

Subcommittee members had been unhappy at the last meeting over the lack of measures to compensate for plans to reclaim 650 hectares of prime habitat for the shrinking dolphin population - and it emerged as the key issue again yesterday.

The meeting was the last opportunity to provide new information to the subcommittee before it makes its recommendations to the council, which will decide next month whether the report should be endorsed and what conditions to attach.

Before Hung's criticism - which was met by silence from airport officials - Professor Nora Tam Fung-yee also vented her frustration at the authority's performance.

She criticised it for failing to respond to members' previous call for "out-of-the-box ideas", such as setting up another marine park farther from the works site in southwestern Lantau.

The authority proposes opening a 2,400 hectare marine park after the runway is finished, saying dolphins that leave the area during construction will return.

Tam also queried the effectiveness of a proposal to re-route the Skypier high-speed ferries to Macau and the Pearl River Delta and lower their speed during the construction.

The measure would re-route ferries travelling to the north of Lung Kwu Chau marine park - a vital dolphin sanctuary. The authority also proposes to freeze further growth until 2023 of its ferry business that carries 2.5 million transit air passengers a year.

Authority consultant Eric Ching Ming-kam said the diversion of the ferries and their lowered speed could benefit the dolphins by reducing underwater noise without significantly reducing passenger comfort.

But Tam said the increased journey times might increase the dolphins' exposure to noise and demanded a proper assessment.

Another member, Gary Ades, listed a number of other options, including relocating the Skypier. But his idea was rejected by the authority as not practical.

Under present plans, the new 2,400-hectare marine park would connect the existing Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park with the planned Brothers Islands marine park.

Another consultant, Dr Thomas Jefferson, said in June that some decrease in dolphins was to be expected during construction, "but the plan and hope" was that the large marine park would draw them back.