WWF says protection lacking for Hong Kong’s vital marine habitats

Study mapped areas of ecological importance around Hong Kong, prompting calls for action

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 November, 2016, 12:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 November, 2016, 6:30pm

Conservationists have urged the government to expand protection for local marine hotspots after a study by WWF-Hong Kong found just five out of 31 such sites are ­actively managed as marine parks or reserves.

The project mapped and indentified key areas for marine life, including areas with no statutory protection such as Tai Tam Bay, home to Hong Kong Island’s biggest mangrove, the waters of Western Lantau – a core Chinese white dolphin habitat – and the Po Toi Islands, all which have a varying degrees of conservation value.

While Hong Kong has four designated marine parks, and work on parks at the Brother’s and Soko islands is underway, and one marine reserve at Cape d’Aguilar, the 2,430 hectares of protected space comprises just two per cent of Hong Kong waters.

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The study, which involved 30 marine experts and academics, surveyed marine and coastal areas around the territory and assessed them based on six criteria for identifying Ecological or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) adopted by the UN Environment Programme.

These parameters included uniqueness and rarity, whether they were required for a population to survive and thrive, importance for threatened, endangered or declining species, vulnerability and sensitivity of habitats, biological diversity and naturalness.

Assistant conservation manager Samantha Lee Mei-wah, urged the government to increase the level of protection to 10 per cent of Hong Kong’s waters – a benchmark set by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Targets for 2020.

“The problem is even if Hong Kong decides to increase protection, it doesn’t even know which areas to protect,” she said. “[This map] will provide this information ... the next step will be to identify which of them need what type of conservation measures or priority protection.”

Dr Ang Put of Chinese University’s Marine Science Laboratory, who took part in the study, said there was much room for better management of existing protected areas. He cited Hoi Ha Wan marine park in Sai Kung, which had recently been seeing swathes of coral communities disappear as a result of nutrient pollution and algal blooms. “The coral biodiversity in Hoi Ha alone is higher than the entire Caribbean,” he said. “Designating an area to be protected is not enough, it needs to be managed well too.”

An Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spokesman said Hong Kong was not a party to the UN convention, but stressed that a local biodiversity action and strategy plan was being drawn up in line with convention’s principles, while taking into account local needs and ­priorities.

The department said it was working with coral experts to closely monitor the effects of bio- erosion at Hoi Ha.