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City Weekend

How a Hong Kong swimwear brand Mazu is giving back to endangered pink dolphins that inspired designs

For each of seven swim shorts featuring dolphin designs sold, founder pledges to donate 10 per cent of profits to Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 10:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 10:30am

The first male swimwear brand founded in Hong Kong is to splash a percentage of its profits helping those it gains inspiration from – the city’s native pink dolphins, whose numbers are dwindling.

Adam Raby, who set up Mazu resortwear in 2014, wanted to create “an Asian brand that people can be proud of”.

For each of the seven swim shorts designs featuring dolphins that is sold, Raby has pledged to donate 10 per cent of the profits to the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society (HKDCS).

“I have a deep connection to [the pink dolphins] because they’re unique to Hong Kong,” Raby said. So much so they became the official mascot for the territory’s 1997 handover from Britain to China.

“It’s incredible, they’re found nowhere else in the world.”

Although the same species as the Chinese white dolphin found in the Pearl River Delta – also known as the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin – the young grey animals are believed to turn pink in adulthood because of their blood passing through surface blood vessels to cool themselves down in Hong Kong’s warm waters. Another theory goes that as they are the area’s top predators, they do not need to stay a camouflaged grey colour to blend into surroundings and protect themselves.

Similarly coloured mammals can be found in fresh river water in Brazil, but Hong Kong is the only region home to pink, saltwater dolphins.

“I wanted to create a brand that helped various different organisations from beach-cleaning to dolphins – anything to do with the ocean. It’s something I care deeply about,” Raby said.

The 31-year-old remembers seeing thousands of the mammals while growing up in Hong Kong. In 2003, there were just 188, according to the HKDCS. By 2016 an estimated 47 remained in Hong Kong’s waters.

In 1998, Hong Kong International Airport replaced Kai Tak International Airport, using 9.4 sq km of reclaimed land on the northwestern side of Lantau Island. As the dolphins now inhabit waters surrounding the airport, the land may have been reclaimed on top of their original habitat, forcing them to occupy the surrounding waters, said Yuki Lui, Project Officer at HKDCS. However as research into the animals first began in 1997, after the reclamation had started, it cannot be certain.

What is certain, she said, is reclamation for the 55km-long Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, which began in 2009, and the airport’s third runway, which began last year, both cut through the dolphin’s habitat, pushing them further westwards into the channel of the Hong Kong-Macau ferry.

“The ferry companies don’t want to divert 15 minutes to try and save that habitat and they are constantly getting hit,” Raby said.

But reclamation is not their only threat, said the HKDCS. Water pollution harms their health; overfishing in Hong Kong’s waters can reduce their food supply and increase chances of being caught in nets, while underwater noise can affect their ability to communicate and locate food.

Losing the species “actually implies a big problem because we are all connected,” said Lui. “What the dolphins are eating is the same as what we are eating. We are using the same ocean. We fish in their home. If they disappeared that means we are having big trouble in our ocean that we really rely on.”

“To see the number go up again back to what they were before would be an ideal world”, Raby said. “At least it would be increasing rather than decreasing and that would be a good start.”