In Busy Hong Kong Waters, Lives The Rare Pink Dolphins, But They Are Rapidly Disappearing.
Dr Samuel Hung has been monitoring dolphins in Hong Kong waters since 1997 and is the founder of Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society; a non-profit organisation started in 2003.
Dr Hung's Report showed in 2003 there were about 158 dolphins in Hong Kong waters, that number has now plummeted to about 47. Dr Hung's report use uses a different methodology than the University of Hong Kong, who report 368 dolphins use Hong Kong waters.
The population of dolphins in Hong Kong waters are an intricate part of the Pearl River Delta where there is estimated to be about 2,500 dolphins
History of the pink dolphin
The pink dolphin is also known as the Chinese White Dolphin. They were first observed in the waters around Hong Kong and the Pearl River Estuary over 300 years ago, but it was not until the late 1980s that people started paying attention to them.
They became Hong Kong’s official mascot for the handover ceremony in 1997 when Britain returned the territory to China.
Dolphins are born grey but turn pink in colour as they grow older. It is believed that the pink colour is caused by flushing blood to the outer layers of the skin for regulation of body temperature.
I talked to conservationist Yuki Lui, of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society.(HKDCS). “We know their home range and their Story. The Research team goes out on the boat to monitor the dolphins even in bad weather."
Habitat loss is the greatest threat, One of the world's largest construction projects started In 2011 of a 42 km bridge which connects Hong Kong to Macau to southern China cuts right through their habitat. “We saw a drop in dolphin numbers."
An eight-year project to build a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport means more ocean is being turned into land more than 650 hectares which will destroy the habitat of the pink Dolphin.
“We did a study we put Ecological Acoustic Recorders in the water and could hear a lot of dolphins, so we know they use that area to feed at night, and it's an important habitat for them.”
To start a project in Hong Kong an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report must be conducted and has to pass through government. EIA is the assessment of the environmental consequences (positive and negative). The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision makers consider the environmental impacts when deciding whether or not to proceed with a project. There is also
A 30 day public participation period, The goal of public participation is to collect community input on proposed projects before a final decision has been reached.
“ we urged the citizens to write to the government and to tell them we don't want this huge construction that impacts the dolphins, we gathered a lot of comments from the citizens, but sadly the government did not listen and passed the EIA Report, and the work started”.
"We still monitor to see if there are any violations of the environmental permits."
"Taiwan has a subspecies of the pink dolphin, and there are only about 70 in the world. Taiwan also has coastal development (wind farms) that affects the dolphins, But at least the government listens to the people and move the development to another area that does not effect the dolphin."
All the different projects in Hong Kong waters cause pollution. There is a high calf mortality, toxins kill the calf's as their immune system is not strong. There is rubbish along the seashore and in the sea and wildlife will eat it.
How can people Help?
"Reduce rubbish/garbage such as straws, plastic knives and forks, plastic bags. Avoid using skin products that contain microbeads as eventually, it all ends up in the ocean."
Hong Kong waters are one of the world’s busiest waterways, with High-speed ferries coming to and from Macau with passenger and freight, which cut right through the dolphins habitat and can kill them in collisions. In addition to that underwater noise pollution from the boat's engine which magnifies under the water effect their echolocation efficiency. Dolphins rely on sonar to navigate, communicate and find food.
“we did write to the ferry company and asked them to reroute or slow down. They said it would cost them more money in fuel to reroute and more time. We did a survey about three years ago most people didn't mind paying more money and rerouting.”
How you can Help?
Please sign the petition 'Saving the Handover Mascot' to reroute South Lantau vessel fairway and set up new and effective marine park to save the Chinese white dolphins.
Dolphin Boat Tours
Tai O is an old fishing village which is located on the western side of Lantau Island in Hong Kong. Where age old stilt houses are still standing. Fishermen bring visitors to see the dolphins.
"About two years ago we found a dolphin with cuts, two of the cuts were deep we suspect it came from the propeller of a small boat, in the Tai O area. There is a Code of Conduct for dolphins watching, but it is not a law. These fishermen are not good operators because they don’t obey the code of conduct. The boats they use are small and not high enough, it's difficult for the visitors to see the dolphins, so they have to get close. This is dangerous for the Dolphins because the boats are at high speed and get too close."
"There is more than one boat operator in Tai O, Once one boat finds the dolphins, rest of the boats should stay 500 metres away, but they don't obey this rule. The rest of the boats will follow and surround the dolphins and get too close so they can get injuries from the propeller of the boat.”
To see pink dolphins, Hong Kong Dolphin Watch has been running tours since 1995 and works within the Code Of Conduct. They have a 97% chance of seeing the dolphins. They support conservation by giving talks on the dolphins to schools.
Do you have much hope?
“We don't have much hope, but we will still need to do something. We are bringing more awareness; I see more students and more Hong Kong people becoming aware, so I see a little hope."
My experience on Dolphin Watch tour
It was a scenic, relaxing boat ride, some of the dolphins came quite close to the boat. Playfully jumping and frolicking in the water. While a great experience it was also worrisome to know that is a high probability they will soon disappear.
The boat is equipped with a toilet and complimentary light snacks and drinks.
Other ways to help
support green groups
education spread the plight
reduce personal ecological footprint