Mismanagement and lack of targets causing Hong Kong’s marine parks to suffer
WWF-Hong Kong calls for broadening protected zone from 2pc of city’s waters to 30pc
A report on Hong Kong’s marine parks found they are not being managed on scientific lines and that there are no hard targets to expand the protected areas.
The parks make up just 2 per cent of the city’s waters, but environmental group WWF-Hong Kong, which funded the Chinese University study, said this should be enlarged to at least 10 per cent by 2020 and 30 per cent by 2030.
It is in the process of updating a marine ecology “hot spot” map to identify waters suitable for immediate protection, such as west Lantau, south Lantau’s Shui Hau, the Ninepin Islands and Sharp Island.
Five marine parks and a marine reserve currently make up the 2,430 hectares of protected waters.
Professor Ang Put of the university’s Marine Science Laboratory pointed out in the report that each marine park appeared to be managed individually without much consideration of their functional connectedness.
“There has already been a consensus among conservation biologists that it is better to have a single large area than to have several smaller areas to be designated as protected area,” he wrote.
Most marine parks set up in recent years have been “compensation” items for infrastructure projects. WWF-Hong Kong conservation manager Samantha Lee said this put some at risk of becoming “paper parks” with low ecological value.
“Without a long-term commitment to enlarge protected areas to a certain area and no transparent data on their effectiveness, it is hard to communicate to stakeholders such as the fisheries sector why it is important to set up new marine parks,” she said.
Overfishing as a result of unregulated practices has reduced yearly catches of the city’s fleet by more than half since 1980.
Despite some progressive measures such as a trawling ban in 2012, “Hong Kong still has no limit on catch sizes and lacks a long-term fisheries monitoring programme,” senior conservation officer Lam Yin-ha said.
Licensed commercial fishing is still permitted in marine parks.
The report highlighted a deterioration of the general marine environment inside and outside protected areas.
In marine parks like Tung Ping Chau, the success rates of coral recruitment – the process of coral larvae establishing themselves in coral communities – had dropped to alarmingly low levels of less than one recruit per metre square a year.
Individual sightings of Chinese white dolphins around Lantau have dropped 60 per cent in 10 years.
Though the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has not conducted any baseline studies on the health of marine parks, a University of Hong Kong poll found that one in eight Hongkongers supported increasing the size of protected areas.
The department said it had been conducting long-term monitoring in protected areas and was using the data to help monitor effectiveness. Fish levels were generally higher inside than outside protected areas, it said.
“Government will continue to take forward the preparation work for the designation of other proposed marine parks, including the Southwest Lantau Marine Park in 2018 and the Soko Islands Marine Park in 2019,” a spokesman said.