Local environmentalists ridiculed Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s proposal to designate the waters around Brothers Islands as a marine park, calling it a case of “locking the stable door after the horse has gone”.
Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, said dolphins in the northern Lantau waters would have become extinct before the proposed marine park was even established, Apple Daily reported on Monday.
Hung said only one dolphin was spotted in the area last year, adding that the decrease in the number of dolphins in nearby waters have thrice gone beyond environmental impact assessment limits.
As stipulated in the EIA for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge construction, an action level will be reached if the population of dolphins drops 30 percent, while a limit level is designated at a 60 percent fall in their number.
Action level means the environment protection department needs to find out the reason for the decline, while limit level means the agency could halt any construction activity.
According to quarterly data from the Highways Department, the number of dolphins has fallen to the limit level three times and action level twice since December 2014, while water quality has fallen to the action level eight times during the period.
Hung, who has been assisting the Highways Department in monitoring the dolphin population, said around 20 dolphins could be spotted daily in the waters around Brothers Islands about 12 years ago, compared with only one dolphin for the entire 2015.
“It’s the worst I have seen in my 18 years of working on dolphins,” Hung said. “That’s why I said the dolphin situation was like a terminally-ill person at the intensive care unit.”
While the number of dolphins in Hong Kong waters has dropped to an all-time low, the government is denying links to the construction work of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge.
Hung said the government would rather set aside conservation concerns to avoid additional expenses and further delays.
Dolphins are virtually living in a battlefield-like environment as their neighborhood is surrounded by infrastructure projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, third runway of the airport, and sea reclamation for Tung Chung new town and Sunny Bay.
At least 50 vessels are passing the waters at the proposed marine park site on a daily basis for the sea reclamation project in Tung Chung alone, Hung said, adding that it would be an irony if there were no more dolphins in the marine park.
Billy Hau Chi-hang, principal lecturer of the University of Hong Kong’s School of Biological Sciences, said the EIA of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge project has obviously underestimated the impact to dolphins.
Since the construction work for both the airport’s third runway and Tung Chung’s reclamation would overlap, the marine park is unlikely to protect the dolphins in the coming 10 years.
This means the dolphins may never be seen again in the northern Lantau waters.
Hau said new marine parks must be set up in order to compensate for the losses brought by the Tung Chung reclamation.
He suggested that the waters near western Lantau, from Lung Kwu Chau, Tai O to Sok Kwu Wan, should be designated as parts of the marine park.
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