Environmentalists are critical of a government plan for two marine parks in Southwest Lantau and Soko Islands, questioning if it is meant to pave the way for a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport.
The plan was announced on Monday by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) which hopes to complete the statutory procedure for the parks by early 2017, Apple Daily reported Tuesday.
The conservation areas were first proposed in 2002 but plans were put off because of strong objection by fishery groups and the Islands District Council.
Legislator Chan Ka-lok of the Civic Party said the plan for the marine parks comes at a time when the runway is under intense debate and would make people think the parks are a trade-off for the runway.
Melonie Chau, an assistant environmental affairs manager of Friends of the Earth, said the plan is just a means to ease the passage of the environmental assessment report on the runway.
She called on members of the Advisory Council on the Environment not to change their stance against the runway.
The advisory council, a panel under the Environmental Protection Deparment, has recently been debating on the environmental impact of the runway, which the Airport Authority hopes to begin work on as soon as 2016.
The AFCD said the plan has nothing to do with the runway and should not affect any decision made by the advisory council.
Meanwhile, the Airport Authority said the plan can complement the ecological protection measures suggested in the environmental assessment report.
The Southwest Lantau and Soko Islands marine parks cover 660 hectares and 1,270 hectares of waters respectively. The location is among the major habitats of Chinese white dolphins and finless porpoises.
The AFCD said the government aims to proceed with the conservation expeditiously in response to public concern about protection for Chinese white dolphins.
The long-term goal is to enable the Chinese white dolphins to continue to use Hong Kong waters as part of their population range and to enhance the continued survival of the dolphin population inhabiting the Pearl River Estuary.
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