More stringent regulation is needed for dolphin boat tours

An incident involving a sightseeing trip and one of the endangered mammals highlights the need for greater vigilance

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 1:40am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 1:40am

For a city with an area of just 1,104 square kilometres, Hong Kong’s biodiversity is surprisingly rich. Our rugged coastlines and lush green country parks are home to many flora and fauna species, including the Chinese white dolphins. But the beloved marine mammals are sadly threatened by our inexorable pace of development and woefully insufficient conservation efforts.

This is reflected in the falling number of dolphins spotted in our waters. According to a monitoring report tabled to the government in July, the endangered species has apparently moved further west of Lantau or even into mainland waters. The combined estimate of dolphins sighted in four survey areas last year was only 65, compared to a previous range of 73 to 88.

Adding to the dismay was an alleged accident involving a dolphin watching tour boat in Tai O recently. The government received a report of a dolphin being injured during a sightseeing trip, although there were conflicting claims as to how the incident happened. The mammal was feared dead after a futile operation to locate it in the following days.

Tighten controls on dolphin watching trips, Hong Kong conservation group urges, after rare mammal is hit

According to conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature, the number of dolphin strandings in 2014 was 12, the highest since 2008. Six dolphin carcasses were found in the first three months of last year. The reports do nothing to improve the perception of the city’s efforts in marine life protection.

The World Wide Fund for Nature had earlier initiated a sightseeing partnership with local tour operators in the hope of instilling more eco-friendly practices, such as avoiding speeding or getting too close to the mammals. Although the violation rate reportedly dropped from 85 per cent to as low as 44 per cent as a result, non-compliance remains an issue.

Whatever the cause of the latest incident, it underlines the need for higher vigilance. Most boat tours are primarily profit-based rather than conservation-oriented. This is not helped when the observation guidelines remain non-binding. Officials should not rule out adopting more stringent regulation.