A wider restricted area in southern Lamma would keep out the noisy junk parties that threaten the nesting site of rare creatures
It’s a sunny September day and half a dozen junks and pleasure boats are anchored in a scenic inlet on southern Lamma Island.
House music is booming and banana boat-tugging speedboats zip across the bay, while those with the energy make the 50-metre swim to shore – unknowingly committing an illegal act by frolicking on the sandy shores of Sham Wan beach.
The beach is one of the few regular nesting sites for endangered green sea turtles in southern China and is a restricted area during the breeding season between June and October. It was designated a site of special scientific interest in 1999.
Illegal entry is liable to a maximum fine of HK$50,000, but that’s only if nature wardens are able to stop such violations.
Scientists and green groups want the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to ramp up protection efforts by expanding the 0.5-hectare restricted zone to the entire bay to keep out junk parties.
A study by the Eco-Education and Resources Centre between 2013 and 2015 recorded anywhere between 12 and 17 boats anchored in the bay at weekends. Average noise levels went as high as 80 decibels, similar to a police siren, in some parts of the bay.
Green turtles are known for their migratory behaviour and loyalty to feeding sites and nesting grounds. Tracking efforts show they usually swim to Wanshan Archipelago, Fujian waters, the Pratas Islands, the Spratly Islands and the Philippines after visiting Hong Kong.
“Nesting sea turtles are easily affected by human activity,” said ERC science manager Dr Michelle Cheung Ma-shan.
“If a turtle is put off from approaching the beach, it will be forced to lay its eggs underwater, where they will die.”
There have already been notable drops over the years. Between 1998 and 2006, there were 14 records of nesting turtles in Sham Wan. But only two have been documented since 2006, with the last sighting in 2012.
Floating markers similar to ones used in marine parks could be set up to demarcate the entire bay as a protected area.
The ultimate goal is to establish a marine park in hopes that strengthened conservation efforts can bring back sea turtles in greater numbers, says Ken Ching See-ho, the ERC’s founder and director.
“The first step is to expand the restricted area under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance.”
Cheung said nature wardens should be patrolling the beach to keep people out, but their field studies showed they were only present about “60 to 70 per cent of the time”.
Ching said the department could look to successful examples of turtle protection areas overseas, such as the Sandakan Turtle Island Park in Sabah, Malaysia, and a protected area in Taiwan’s Penghu Islands.
Green Power chief executive Dr Man Chi-sam said Hong Kong’s efforts at turtle conservation were “very behind” and “very passive”. “[The findings] also reflect the low public awareness and understanding of this species in Hong Kong,” he said.
A department spokesman said regular patrols were conducted in the area to control unauthorised entry and to monitor the nesting activities of green turtles. “We will step up patrols and put up more warning signs to alert the public not to enter during the restricted period.”
Source: SCMP, 15 Oct 2015