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Multiple development works in the western waters will encompass 4,000 ha

Pressures to the Chinese white dolphin pile up in western waters

WWF-Hong Kong today launched an interactive map (the Map) showing how Chinese white dolphins have and will be impacted by multiple development works and other threats in our western waters. According to WWF research, over the past 20 years at least 2,000 ha of dolphin habitat has already been affected or destroyed because of dredging, dumping and reclamation works. The proposed new runway would reclaim another 650 hectares of the seabed, causing grave concern for the survival of an already stressed and apparently declining dolphin population in Hong Kong.

Dr Alan Leung Sze Lun, Conservation Manager, Terrestrial, WWF-Hong Kong said, “Airport Authority Hong Kong is attempting to downplay the impacts to the Chinese white dolphins caused by the proposed third runway. WWF’s Map of Threats (Appendix 1) to the Chinese white dolphin clearly visualises the tremendous pressures that this vulnerable species is facing. The cumulative impacts caused by multiple development works must not be underestimated or neglected. Indeed, the new runway project should not proceed without a thorough understanding and debate on its environmental and ecological impacts.”

According to the latest Chinese white dolphin monitoring report conducted by Hong Kong Cetacean Research Project for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the drop in dolphin abundance is significant and alarming, from 158 estimated to inhabit the three primary dolphin habitats in local waters in 2003 to 75 in 2010 . The third runway is an extraordinary project with undoubted adverse impacts to the species, WWF believes that the Hong Kong government needs to introduce and implement a science-based dolphin management plan based on global best practice, which includes pro-active threat management, to ensure the survival of the dolphin in Hong Kong waters will be safeguarded from future development projects and other threats.

The western waters of Hong Kong are an ecologically important and sensitive area heavily utilised by the Chinese white dolphins. The Map shows that there are five completed projects and six proposed/ approved/ ongoing projects in the areas, contributing at least 4,000 hectares of affected seabed areas, resulting in both permanent and temporary loss of the Chinese white dolphins’ habitat. The impacts brought by reclamation projects are irreversible and particularly damaging.

Ms Samantha Lee, Senior Conservation Officer, Marine, WWF-Hong Kong said, “The construction of the third runway is the second largest reclamation project in Hong Kong. The size of reclamation will be equivalent to 34 Victoria Parks. Apart from the habitat destruction itself, the sea may become even more congested and less favourable to the dolphins as the underwater noise generated the marine vessels increases, particularly by high-speed ferries.”

The number of ferries crossing through dolphin habitat is escalating and alarming. Cross boundary high-speed ferry traffic has increased 48% from 1999 to 2010. Some 177,877 trips were made in Hong Kong western waters in 2010. The current high-speed ferry routes transverse the prime dolphin habitats around Lantau waters, increasing the risk of dolphins being hit and causing injuries. Scars and other marks, possibly caused by the vessel propellers, can sometimes be observed on the fins or bodies of the Chinese white dolphin.

Dr Leung added, “In order to better address cumulative impacts from multiple development projects, the Government should formally and proactively develop the policy, institutional mechanisms, implementation procedure and monitoring plan for Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) in Hong Kong. A SEA following the ecosystem approach according to the Convention of Biological Diversity should be conducted for the Hong Kong western waters, which the Chinese white dolphin frequents”

The interactive map can be viewed at: wwf.org.hk/threatmap. A printable version is also available for download on the website. WWF has also launched a Pink Dolphin Saver Facebook fans page to raise the awareness of dolphin conservation, which can be found at: www.facebook./pinkdolphinsaver.

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