Yesterday we spent a fantastic morning doing some dolphin watching with HK Dolphinwatch. Leaving from the Tung Chung New Development Pier at Tung Chung we cruised along north Lantau towards Tai O, where we then encountered a group of 5-6 Indopacific Humpback Dolphins (Sousa chinensis), know locally as Chinese White Dolphins or simply the pink dolphins. They gave us plenty to look at with tail-splashing, jumping and coming in quite close to the boat. While I am no photographer and have no clue how to use my Nikon DSLR, I think the resulting pictures are still pretty good.
If you have kids, this is probably the No.1 outing for your budding marine biologists, not just because of the dolphins (always popular!), but also because you and your kids can see the impact humans have on wildlife right there in front of you. Among the many threats thatthe dolphins face, the latest one is the Macao-Zhuhai-Bridge being constructed right through their habitat, as well as the proposed 3rd runway for the Chek Lap Kok airport. Before the Chek Lap Kok airport was build there were thought to be aroudn 150+ dolphins in the area. Then came the blasting and levelling off of the small island of Chek Lap Kok which was then used to fill in a 9 square kilometer area for the airport as well as surrounding infrastructure and development. And then the construction of the Macao-Zhuhai-Bridge started. Now it is just 60 odd. Why? Among the reasons surely is noise. As most people will know, dolphins don’t just communicate with sound, they also use it for echolocation especially in the murky and muddy waters of estuaries where our pink dolphins live.
The below video was made and posted to Vimeo by Sea Shephard Hong Kong and shows you just how bad the noise levels in the dolphins habitat are.
Underwater construction noise is the equivalent of shining flood lights in humans faces. Imagine trying to make your breakfast, work, do the supermarket shopping, take care of children or hold a normal conversation while all the time someone pointing a search light in your face thats constantly flickering – you would not get much done! And you would be super stressed.
Thats how the dolphins feel – and these constructions projects last several years!
But there is more: add sewage, heavy boat traffic and high speed ferries, toxic algal blooms, heavy metal contamination, PCB’s and organochlorides, flame retardant chemicals to the mix and the fact that there is little to eat because the seas are so overfished and the seabed was trawled so heavily that it does not support much in the way of food production anymore.
Sticking with the dolphin-human analogy: not only would you suffer from blinding lights day-in-day-out for years, your children might be stillborn or die soon after birth because your body passed to your child environmental contaminats from the little food you could find in these famine conditions. And then cars, trucks and trains constantly bomb through your garden and house unpredictably, frequently maiming or even killing a member of your family or a neighbor.
In short, you can see, that you would not want to be reborn as a pink dolphin in Hong Kong!
Unless we start to do something about it. Check out the below links to find out more about how you can help.
Conservationists claim that only three sightings of Chinese white dolphins have been recorded in Hong Kong this year.
The population of Hong Kong’s Chinese White Dolphins has dropped by 60% since 1997 in what the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society (HKDCS) calles an ecological disaster. Since 1997 the dolphin’s habitat saw the completion of the Chek Lap Kok International Airport, wave after wave of town development in Tung Chung and Tuen Mun, a landfill development and more recently, the construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge project which is still ongoing. This HKDCS says has almost destroyed the white dolphins habitat.
According to statistics, there were 158 white dolphins in Hong Kong in 2003 but this number fell to 62 last year (2013) – a drop of 60% -causing great concern. In addition the current scheme to build a third runway at the airport, would cover an area of 650 hectares and would be the second largest reclamation project ever and is loacted in the white dolphins habitat. But the Airport Authority so far refuses to set meet with environmental groups and refuses to give full explanation of data and has been jointly criticized by nine environmental groups. It is currently understood that the Airport Authority will soon publish and interim Environmental Impact Assessment report on the third runway project and a 30th public consultation will be held.
The construction works have forced the dolphins to move further west as the noise affects their navigation and communication skills and the barges parked in the harbor creates sediment blooms affecting their food supply. Either that or they’ve died and or giving less birth.
Samuel Hung, President of Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, urged the public to make good use of 30th consultation to express their views and take concrete actions to protect white dolphins. The Hong Kong dolphin conservation, Hong Kong Friends of the Earth and public Professional Union has conducted a “social cost and the returns assessment” study to estimate the effects of the third runway project’s on the public and its social effects which found that the white dolphin could earn Hong Kong some HKD 36.1 billion over ten years in ecological tourism revenue.
There is a lot of information on the internet about the Sousa chinensis, the Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphin, also known as the Chinese White Dolphin or the Pink Dolphin, so I won’t repeat any of it here. Instead here are some links to organizations and people that deal with the topic full-time:
- Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society’s Facebook Group
- Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society’s website
- The HKDCS’s intern blog
Some images of the Chinese White Dolphin or Pink Dolphins (Sousa chinensis) taken back in 2002 (Credit: Chris Cornelius)