Only five white dolphins were spotted in Hong Kong waters in December and none in the previous five months, sparking fears of a large-scale decimation of their population.
The sightings were down 90 percent from the number in January last year, Ming Pao Daily reported Monday, citing a consultant report.
The Highways Department, which commissioned the study, denied that ongoing construction on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge has driven Hong Kong’s aquatic symbol to the brink of extinction.
The bridge construction permit was issued in 2009 by the government and reclamation work began in 2011.
In 1997, the Chinese white dolphin was chosen by the former British colonial administration as its official mascot during Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese sovereignty.
Dolphins were spotted sporadically in January, February and July last year in waters off Lantau island but none on its northeast side, according to the Highways Department website.
In 2013, there were no sightings for two months.
The department said the consultant report did suggest the species is below warning level.
However, it said its own monitoring shows the number has been on a downward trend for a long time, even before the bridge began construction.
The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) said it has been conducting regular checks on the construction site and has found no violation of the permit.
The EPD requires extra remedial measures if sightings of white dolphins fall below 40 percent of the level before construction began.
However, there are no detailed steps to enforce the requirement, Ming Pao said.
Melonie Chau, an assistant manager of environmental group Friends of the Earth, said it is clear the permit system is flawed.
Samuel Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, warned that the planned third airport runway could pose even higher risk to the species.
He urged the EPD to review the environmental requirements in the permit approval system and suspend construction until the situation improves.
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