Bad news this week for Chinese white dolphins living in Hong Kong waters: a recently released government report has confirmed the species’ numbers remain “critically low” in the Special Administrative Region.
Between April 2017 and March of this year, only 47 Chinese white dolphins were sighted, according to the report, which was released by Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. The number of sightings remained consistent for the second year in a row: there were only 47 sightings of the cetacean between April 2016 and March 2017 off Lantau Island, according to the 2016/17 Marine Mammals Monitoring Report.
For the third consecutive year, no Chinese white dolphins were spotted off the northeast coast of Lantau island. The lack of cetacean sightings in this area seems to reaffirm suspicions that the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge project might be causing the species to leave the area. According to South China Morning Post, the marine mammals have largely vacated the northeast Lantau area since construction work on the bridge began and airport ferry traffic picked up in 2012.
Troublingly, the Cetacean Research Project’s Dr. Samuel Hung Ka-yiu notes that there’ve been “no signs of recovery at all,” despite the fact major construction on the bridge wrapped up last year, according to SCMP.
Back in 2003, the first year records were collected, 188 dolphins were spotted in Hong Kong waters. In the 2014-15 report, that number sank to 87 sightings. Sixty-five were counted in the 2015-16 survey.
A number of measures have been suggested to help protect the Special Administrative Region’s remaining cetaceans, including the joining of two marine parks currently planned for the southern coastal waters of Lantau island and underwater acoustic monitoring of marine construction zones.
Experts, understandably, are not impressed with the report’s findings. Chairman Taison Chang Ka-tai of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society stated that while the number of dolphin sightings did not drop further in the 2017-18 count, the number remains a “historic low,” according to SCMP. He goes on to note that members of his organization are “not optimistic.”
There is good reason to shun optimism: with an additional runway being added to Hong Kong International Airport and a number of planned reclamation projects on the horizon, it seems unlikely the cetaceans will return to the area.
“In the next 15 to 20 years, with one construction project following after the other, we’re concerned that dolphin numbers in Hong Kong waters in the future could drop even further,” said Chang, according to SCMP, before pondering if ongoing construction will eventually force the creatures to abandon Hong Kong waters altogether for the coast of the Chinese mainland.
[Cover image via Wikimedia]