WWF welcomes Designation of Brothers Island Marine Park | WWF Hong Kong

WWF welcomes Designation of Brothers Island Marine Park

30 December 2016

WWF-Hong Kong (WWF) welcomes the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD)’s designation of the Brothers Island Marine Park (BIMP) on 30 December 2016.  WWF believes that the decision is an important step toward preserving Hong Kong’s marine ecosystem, fisheries and Chinese white dolphins (CWDs), but much more needs to be done to reverse the decline of Hong Kong’s dolphin numbers.
Samantha Lee, WWF-Hong Kong’s Assistant Conservation Manager, Marine, says: “The designation of the Brothers Island Marine Park is a positive step forward for the conservation of dolphins and other marine life, but this initiative is a compensatory measure for reclaiming land for development and couldn’t effectively conserve this threatened icon. To protect Hong Kong’s dolphins and help their numbers rebound,  West Lantau Marine Park (Figure 1) should also be designated as part of a larger network of Marine Parks, and holistic management plans with clear conservation objectives must be put in place for all marine parks.” 
According to the latest AFCD’s dolphin monitoring survey, dolphin numbers in North Lantau have plunged by an alarming 80 per cent over the past four years. Reclamation for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) is nearly completed and reclamation required for the Third Runway project, which overlaps with the habitat of CWDs, will commence shortly. The environmental impact of this construction, compounded by increasing high-speed ferry traffic, would contribute to the ongoing decline in dolphins. In fact since the commencement of the HZMB construction in 2012, the numbers of CWDs in northeast Lantau have dropped dramatically and almost no sightings were recorded in the Brothers area over the last two to three years, and there is no sign of recovery to date.
Despite the designation of the BIMP, the total area of Hong Kong’s Marine Parks and Marine Reserve still cover less than 2 per cent of the total area of the territory’s waters. This is a stark contrast to Country Parks which cover 40 per cent of the territory’s land area. Existing regulations leave large swathes of Hong Kong’s waters, which are rich in marine life and vital for fishermen, with little or even no protection.
New research underscores the importance of western Hong Kong waters to the CWDs, and once again indicates the urgent need to designate more and larger Marine Parks for their  survival. In his latest study, University of Hong Kong’s Dr. Leszek Karczmarski and his postgraduate student Carmen Or highlighted the importance of the waters off west and southwest Lantau as the dolphins’ primary foraging grounds.
Dr. Karczmarski says: “Our research shows that Tai O waters and especially the stretch of coastal waters between Tai O and Fan Lau were found to be of paramount importance for the dolphins' daily nutritional needs. It is particularly so these days as many dolphins abandoned the area further North around Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau due to the ongoing construction works and shifted their primary foraging grounds to waters off west and southwest Lantau.  The designated Brothers Islands Marine Park and Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park are in the areas almost completely abandoned by the dolphins.  In contrast, the recent PhD study by Miss Carmen Or documented that waters off the west/southwest Lantau are not only essential for the dolphins in Hong Kong but actually for the dolphins across the whole of the eastern Pearl River Estuary.  Preserving coastal waters off west/southwest Lantau and ensuring the connectivity of the coastal habitat is absolutely critical for sustaining the health of the dolphin population, securing their food and shelter, their well-being, and increasing their chance of long-term survival (Figure 2).”
Tai O residents, such as fishermen and dolphin watching tour operators, are the key stakeholders in marine conservation. From March to December in 2016, WWF invited more than 80 Tai O residents to fill in a questionnaire to understand their perception of marine health and conservation. The result shows that almost 90 per cent of respondents believe that fisheries resources have declined in the past decade and more than half of them saw a drop in CWDs population. Most importantly, an overwhelming 96 per cent of respondents agreed that it is important to protect the fisheries resources in Tai O waters and 94 per cent want to see CWDs protected. Their strong desire to protect marine resources and species means that government should press ahead with designating WWF’s proposed West Lantau Marine Park, engage residents to help co-manage their waters, and formulate effective management plans for marine parks.
The Hong Kong government recently adopted a five year Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan with commitments to designate a larger network of Marine Parks covering more of Hong Kong’s waters, and strengthen action plans to protect species including the Chinese white dolphin. The next Chief Executive is expected to implement the plan as part of Hong Kong’s commitment to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.