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the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB), have driven Hong Kong’s iconic Chinese white dolphins closer to the brink in the wake of fresh evidence showing an alarming 60 per cent plunge in dolphin numbers in North Lantau over the past year.
WWF fears that the environmental impact of the Third Runway, which calls for the reclamation of four times more land than the HZMB and takes double the time to build, compounded by increasing traffic of high-speed ferries will bring further severe and irreversible detriment to dolphins.
The latest annual dolphin monitoring report published by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department on 29 July puts the recorded dolphin numbers in western Hong Kong waters (from Tuen Mun to Sokos) at 65 between April 2015 and March 2016. There is a general downward trend over the past five years.
During the research period, on average only 10 dolphins were found in North Lantau, a drastic decline from 102 in 2003. No sightings were reported in Northeast Lantau last year, which used to be the cetacean’s core habitat, while Northwest Lantau saw an 88 per cent plunge in the cetaceans over the past 13 years. In contrary, relatively more are spotted in Southwest Lantau. This shift in the dolphin range is closely linked to the construction of the HZMB and the increased marine traffic in the area.
The occurrence of juvenile dolphins dipped to a historic low in the past 14 years, while the occurrence of calves was among one of the lowest in recent years. This finding raises red flags on the species’ survival and the suitability of Hong Kong waters for dolphin mother and young.
WWF’s recommendations for the government:
1. Designate the waters off Tai O as West Lantau Marine Park and kick off designation process immediately:
The waters off West Lantau have been the only area in Hong Kong that dolphins use consistently and frequently in the past six years. Calves are also found in these coastal waters. Thus designating these coastal waters as a marine protected area (MPA) will link current and future MPAs in the North and Southwest Lantau, forming a network of protection to the remaining prime habitats and travelling corridors of dolphins, help fisheries recover and encourage stakeholders to use marine resources sustainably. (See Info graphic: A Safe Haven For Dolphins)
2. Draw up and implement a dolphin management plan:
The cross-departmental plan should be based on rigorous science and best global practices, and address all major threats to dolphins, including development projects, heightened marine traffic, poor water quality, low prey abundance and degraded habitat.
3. Lay down a timetable to expand marine protected areas (MPAs) to cover at least 10 per cent of our waters by 2020:
The government should take into account the list of the Marine Biodiversity Hotspots, being compiled by WWF in collaboration with more than 25 scientific experts, when drawing up the MPAs and their management plans. This timetable should be included into the formal Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP).