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To keep up with development needs that will inevitably impact its seas, Hong Kong must catch up with international and national standards and adopt a holistic, long-term marine management system
The sea is part of Hong Kong’s soul. It is ever-present – in our sight, hearing and imagination – and it shapes the city’s climate, geography, society and financial fortunes. In spite of this, we almost always take it for granted.
This year's World Oceans Day (June 8th) features the theme of “Revitalisation: Collective Action for the Ocean”. The sea belongs to us all, and everyone has a responsibility to protect it.
Around the world, a series of future-focused negotiations and agreements centred on the planet’s oceans have been taking place. One was the Our Ocean Conference, held in April in Palau, in the Philippines. Countries, companies and organisations that attended made more than 400 commitments to marine protection, restoration and governance, worth US$16.35 billion.
Late May in Berlin, the environment, climate and energy ministers of the G7 nations met and reaffirmed their commitment to lead the protection, conservation, restoration, and sustainable and equitable use of the oceans.
These important priorities were also featured prominently at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal in June. As part of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN has set 10 ocean-related targets to be achieved during this decade.
Nationally, the 14th five-year plan has a stand-alone section on the ocean that includes the term “sustainable” in relation to the utilisation of marine resources. Efforts will be made to enhance innovation in marine technology and coordinate the conservation and development of marine resources, among other measures.
Hong Kong has a duty and an obligation to support the initiatives. Hong Kong’s waters are home to around 6,000 marine species – far higher than you would expect for a global financial hub.
Alongside this biodiversity, our waters also support the vast and varied functions of our city: water-based recreation, fisheries and aquaculture, marine transport, and development needs such as land reclamation and undersea cabling. Offshore wind farms may also be built in the near future to achieve our decarbonisation goals.
Some of these uses are incompatible with the rich biodiversity of our marine habitats, and some, if not managed properly, may even create irreversible impacts on the marine ecosystem.
We have already witnessed some unfortunate marine biodiversity effects from prior development projects. Although the environmental impact assessments for the construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and related infrastructure projects stated that habitat loss and thus the impact on Chinese white dolphins could be “effectively mitigated”, continuous monitoring tells another story.
The documented occurrence and density of the dolphins across a 4,000-hectare swathe of the sea north of Lantau Island has dropped to extremely low levels, with no sign of recovery, since 2015.
To better conserve Hong Kong’s irreplaceable marine and seabed areas while meeting the needs of our city, the incoming administration should embrace a new mindset and adopt an advanced governance mechanism.
Ecosystem-based coastal and marine spatial planning is an effective solution that integrates planned development with effective conservation and restoration of the sea and marine species.
In recent years, several countries have started using marine spatial planning or ocean zoning to reduce conflicts and ensure that coastal and marine resources are used more sustainably. Around the world today, about 80 marine spatial planning processes have been completed or are under way.
Marine zoning and planning are two cornerstones of China’s marine and coastal management, and are presently being implemented in several places.
Hong Kong needs to catch up to both national and international standards and begin using marine spatial planning as soon as possible. To build momentum for creating such a framework for Hong Kong, WWF organised an interdisciplinary workshop in January.
More than 90 participants from various sectors attended, including government officials, local and overseas academics, NGO staff members, environmental concern groups, and environmental consultants. Their enthusiastic participation indicates that stakeholders are eager to explore the opportunities that marine spatial planning offers in terms of achieving optimal ecological, economic and social objectives.
The pressures faced by Hong Kong’s marine areas are only going to become more intense. Given the increased national and international commitments to conserving marine and terrestrial biodiversity, and the growing enormity of global environmental crises, Hong Kong has an indisputable moral obligation to create and participate in collective solutions that will repair and rejuvenate our precious oceans.
by Lydia Pang
Interim Head of Oceans Conservation at WWF-Hong Kong
(edited from the article originally published on South China Morning Post)