Few Hong Kong animals are as beloved as the Chinese white dolphin. Native to the waters of the Pearl River Delta and Lantau, the marine creature is one of the many endangered species that call for extra conservation efforts. A day trip to see the pink-coloured mammals frolicking in their natural habitat is marketed as a highlight for tourists and locals alike. That it was chosen as the mascot for the handover celebrations in 1997 further shows the special sentiments people attach to the animal.
Sadly, the dolphins' population has dropped to a dangerously low level. According to the Dolphin Conservation Society, there were just 61 sightings in Hong Kong waters last year, the fewest in a decade. The situation around Lantau appears most worrying, with only four sightings off its northeast, down from 20 in 2003. Over the past few months, no dolphins have been sighted near the area where the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge is being built. The decline was attributed primarily to the construction work, though officials maintain that the marine environment has not been affected.
The decrease has rung the alarm bell for better conservation. Regardless of the cause, a shrinking population can only mean the waters are no longer deemed suitable for our dolphins to live in. As explained by the experts, noise and pollution can seriously disturb the habitat and affect breeding. The situation is unlikely to improve as the bridge project continues. The threat to marine life is expected to be even higher should the government decide to go ahead with the airport's third runway and land reclamation on Lantau.
The need for remedial action is obvious. The conservation society has rightly urged the government to speed up the provision of a sanctuary for marine life. Officials have promised that the Brothers Islands will be designated as a statutory marine park in 2016, after the completion of the bridge. In light of the dwindling dolphin population, the earlier a new home is built for them, the better. It would be a pity if the animal can only be found in souvenirs but not in real life.