Chinese White Dolphins Close to Extinction in Hong Kong WWF urges “Dolphin Conservation Management Area” in West and South Lantau Waters

Posted 01 August 2019
Chinese White Dolphins
Chinese White Dolphins
© Stephen Chan,Cetacean Ecology Lab, SWIMS, HKU
The population of Chinese White Dolphin in Hong Kong waters has dropped drastically, to a historic low of 32 individuals, a decline of 30% compared to data released last year, according to the latest annual Marine Mammal Monitoring Report issued today (1 August 2019) by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD). The survey also indicates that only 16 dolphin calves were spotted, which is the lowest since 2003, implying an ongoing decline in reproduction.  WWF regards these findings raising a red flag that the species’ disappearance in Hong Kong waters is imminent, highlighting the urgent need to conserve the remaining core habitats for dolphins. WWF strongly urges the Government to take significant remediation and conservation action now.
WWF urges the Government to take immediate action to set up a “Dolphin Conservation Management Area” in the western and southern waters off Lantau Islandto protect the critical foraging and resting habitats, to stringently manage vessel traffic and noise, as well as dolphin ecotourism activities in these waters.  WWF believes that western and southern Lantau waters may soon be the only remaining key dolphin habitat in Hong Kong waters relatively undisturbed by human activities.  Furthermore, WWF suggests connecting and expanding existing marine parks to establish a science-based, well-connected, and well-managed network of key habitats to help stabilize and recover the remaining dolphin population. 
According to AFCD’s report, the dolphin’s favoured habitat has been shifting southwards since 2015, which is closely linked to the severe disturbances brought by the prolonged large scale coastal development projects underway in north and northeast Lantau habitats, such as the Hong Kong International Airport’s Third Runway reclamation.  WWF believes that the habitat shift does not help the survival of dolphins.  A study by WWF on the underwater sound monitoring from 2016 revealed that noise disturbance stemming from anthropogenic activities toward local cetaceans, particularly on dolphins and porpoises, in west and south Lantau waters and around Soko Islands can lead to significant impairment of species’ hearing, which can negatively impact on their ability to forage, communicate, navigate and rest, increasing the chances of vessel collision.   
Another foreseeable danger is the disturbance brought by liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal project.   In a sound propagation modelling study undertaken by WWF last year, it was found that, in contrast to the minimal impact claimed in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for project, the soon-commencing pile-driving for the construction of LNG terminal off southeast Soko Islands can seriously and directly disrupt the integrity and conservation effectiveness of the proposed South Lantau Marine Park (SLMP) designated for cetaceans conservation. 
The Government’s current approach of EIA does not sufficiently reflect the impacts of construction noise on dolphins. “Acoustic propagation modelling is a standard practice of underwater noise impact assessment for marine mammals and is widely adopted around the world. It can quantify and estimate the impacts of underwater noise to cetaceans and thereby predict the severity of actual impacts from construction noise. The Government should take this scientifically credible method as a compulsory part of the EIA process in the future,” said Dr. Matt Pine, the Research Fellow at the University of Victoria and external acoustic expert of WWF-Hong Kong’s underwater sound and noise modelling studies.  The proposed piling works nullify the efforts of setting up the SLMP that the Government has committed, while underestimating the impacts of noise from construction in EIA report might further threaten the shrinking dolphin group in Hong Kong.  
“The Chinese white dolphins of the Pearl River Estuary are globally significant as a vulnerable species under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and an important part of the shared heritage of Hong Kong and Guangdong. WWF believes that the waters of west and south Lantau are one of the few remaining core habitats for dolphins throughout the entire region of the Pearl River Estuary. Chinese white dolphins found in Hong Kong are a key part of the population for the whole region, but extensive, concurrent marine developments in both Hong Kong and Guangdong waters are putting the species in serious peril. For these reasons, cross-border cooperation among administrations is essential to formulate effective conservation and management plans to protect the dolphin population throughout the region,” said Dr. Laurence McCook, WWF-Hong Kong’s Head of Oceans Conservation
Full Report:
Chinese White Dolphins
Chinese White Dolphins
© Stephen Chan,Cetacean Ecology Lab, SWIMS, HKU Enlarge