Chinese White Dolphin’s Back Slashed Likely Caused by Outboard Motor

A Chinese white dolphin was spotted off the coast of Tai O with slash injuries across its fin and back believed to have been caused by a collision with a tour boat’s outboard motor.

Despite the injuries – some of which appear to be several inches deep – a marine scientist who observed the dolphin believes it still has a fighting chance. But tour guides operating dolphin-spotting excursions were warned to steer clear of it.

The dolphin was found near Tai O village at around 4.30pm on Saturday (17th of January 2015). Video and photos taken by members of the University of Hong Kong Swire Institute of Marine Science, clearly show the dolphin swimming along with large gashes on its back and tail.

Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Samuel Hung suspected they have been caused by propeller cuts from the outboard engine of a walla-walla – a type of small motorboat common in local waters which are often seen in the area for dolphin-spotting tours.

“The injuries are very serious,” said Hung, but despite the cuts the dolphin appeared “surprisingly tough” and was seen swimming, rolling around and even feeding on fish near the water’s surface.

Many more motorised tour boats arrived at the scene to view the injured dolphin by late Saturday afternoon putting the animal at greater risk. Hung urged all tour boats not to get too close to the dolphin. He also said that at this point, based on its behaviour, the dolphin would not require further intervention such as rescue or rehabilitation. “The last thing we want to do is to disturb this animal further,” he said.

The 2013 survey estimate of the number of dolphins in west, northwest and northeast Lantau areas is 62 dolphins (similar to the 2012 estimate). That is the lowest of the past decade.

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Southeast Asian Territorial Disputes Are Literally Killing Off Coral Reefs

This week Bloomberg’s Adam Minter wrote a great article on the plight of the South China Seas coral reefs and their large scale destruction in the name of territorial Claims by China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
I have written about this previously (here and here), and I am happy that a professional journalist – for a widely-read news publisher no less – has devoted some time and effort to bringing media coverage to this issue.
Below are some new and interesting insights from extracts of the article ( BloombergView “Victims Under The South China Sea” 26/11/2014).

[…] in the South China Sea, where nations seeking to enforce their territorial claims have not always spent much time worrying about the environmentally and economically valuable reefs under the waves. How valuable? A 2011 report to the UN General Assembly on coral reefs noted that seafaring Asian nations count between 100,000 and “more than” 1 million coral reef fishers among them.

One might think that governments, pressed by those fishermen, would be striving to preserve fragile reef systems. But just the opposite has happened. According to a 2013 study by Australian and Chinese scientists, the South China Sea’s atolls and archipelagos have seen their coral cover decline to 20 percent from averages of 60 percent or more just 10 to 15 years ago.

The large-scale reclamation of reefs for military purposes is just the start of the damage. What happens after can oftentimes be much worse. “If 1,000 soldiers are stationed at any one time in a place, they typically cut down vegetation and cause runoff, generate sewage,” says Terry Hughes, a marine biologist and director of the Queensland-based Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Draining into the sea, runoff is deadly for coral: In coastal China, where cities also tend to discharge effluent into the ocean, 80 percent of all coral has died off. In 1980, the amount of coral cover near a large Taiwanese military outpost in the disputed Spratly Islands was 60 to 70 percent. By 2007 it had declined to 17 percent, according to the 2013 study, which Hughes led.

That sort of damage is likely to grow more common: In October, Taiwan’s top intelligence official revealed that China has seven ongoing South China Sea construction projects. When complete, they’ll join at least 20 additional reclamations owned by four other South China Sea claimants.

Even worse than the direct damage from construction projects is the political deadlock caused by various territorial disputes. The biggest threat to coral is the large-scale use of cyanide and explosives by the region’s fishermen. As Hughes’s 2013 study pointed out, at just one atoll, the number of fishing boats using cyanide and dynamite to kill fish increased nearly eight-fold between 1996 and 2001. By 2001, “virtually everything harvestable (e.g., fish, mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms) had been stripped from the atoll.”

Rogue fishermen are the immediate culprits, but a lack of governance and oversight allows them to continue their depredations. While that’s no secret to any of the six South China Sea claimants, they’re unlikely to agree on where or how to protect coral if they can’t agree on boundaries first. Instead individual countries have tried to impose fishing limits unilaterally, which no one else follows. “When it comes time for governance, everyone puts their hand up and that means no one,” says Hughes.

Nonetheless, Hughes remains optimistic, if only because corals can regenerate when protected and given time. (Decades are needed.) He suggests that in the absence of a broader agreement on regulating the South China Sea, scientists from the region might begin the discussion on how to protect reefs. Translating any recommendations into action won’t be easy. But it’s probably the best option for ensuring that soldiers and tourists won’t be the only living creatures left to enjoy the seas.

(Featured image shows structures built on top of Johnson Reef)

Tuna firm’s bungled IPO exposes China’s flouting of global fishing rules

Taken from the Guardian newspaper on the 27th of October 2014:
(Note: Tuna also occurs in HK waters, mostly on seasonal migration)

Reporting on international fishing can often feel like investigating organized crime. Everyone knows how things are run, but the truth is obscured by shell companies, back-door dealings, and plausible deniability.

This is why it’s remarkable that a recent, bungled initial public stock offering from a major Chinese tuna firm accidentally revealed something close to the truth about China’s fishing industry.

The failed IPO is the work of China Tuna Industry Group, which from 2011 to 2013 was the largest Chinese supplier of premium tuna to Japan’s hungry sushi market. Over 70% of its $62m in annual sales are made to a single company, Toyo Reizo, a subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. Hoping to raise over $100m to expand this profitable operation, China Tuna filed draft documents for the IPO in June.

China Tuna’s target fish stocks, Bigeye and Yellowfin tuna, are both in decline. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists Yellowfin tuna as “near threatened,” two steps into a seven-point scale that ends with extinction. Bigeye tuna, meanwhile, are already seriously overfished, as the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency declared this summer.

But for the IPO to succeed, the company had to convince potential shareholders that chasing after dwindling resources would be a profitable venture. So China Tuna leapfrogged over more recent data to cite a 2011 fisheries assessment that rated Bigeye tuna at a “healthy level of abundance” and “not overfished”.

Despite this claim’s shady appearance, it’s hard to know whether China Tuna’s overly rosy assessment of Bigeye tuna stocks was deliberate. The IPO filing is a draft, so fact-checking is by definition ongoing.

But the company did declare in the draft IPO that it intended to circumvent international conservation limits on tuna – by simply ignoring them. In a series of circular arguments, the document stated that China, which presides over the world’s largest long-distance fishing fleet, would not crack down on companies engaged in illegal fishing because it never had in the past; that the catch limits set by the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations apply only to China the country, not to actual Chinese fishing boats; and that even if the catch limits did apply, the regional fisheries organizations would not enforce them because “there is no sanction for non-compliance with Bigeye catch limits.”

I wanted to contact China Tuna for comment on these statements. The IPO revealed that China Tuna is a transnational corporation under the communist Chinese flag, operating Japanese and Chinese vessels and registered in the Cayman Islands. Its primary shareholders are Li Li, a 24-year-old woman with a passport from St Kitts, and her dad, Li Zhenyu.

As I tried to track down Li Li’s tuna giant, I discovered that like many big fishing companies, China Tuna is hard to reach. Seeking a phone number for the firm’s operations office in Hong Kong, I found that not only is China Tuna’s office number unlisted – the company doesn’t even have an office.

So I tracked the address in the IPO filing back to a firm named Asialink. At first Asialink denied any connection with China Tuna. When confronted with the fact that its address had been listed in a recent publicly filed document as China Tuna’s operations headquarters, Asialink acknowledged a connection, but refused to provide any comment or additional contact information.

Then I called China Tuna’s biggest subsidiary, Dalian Ocean Fishing. The woman who answered the phone at first claimed no knowledge of China Tuna. After a little more conversation, she acknowledged that China Tuna was Dalian’s parent corporation, but refused to comment further or put me in touch with company directors.

I have yet to speak with anyone who admits to working directly for China Tuna. But the firm’s combination of bravado and impenetrable corporate structure offer clues as to why the health of the oceans is in freefall. China has told the world that from 2000 to 2011 it caught 368,000 tons of fish annually in international waters. But as the Wall Street Journal reported in 2012, the European Commission estimates the catch at closer to 4.6m tons or 12 times greater.

So China Tuna is obviously not the only Chinese company implementing the “overfish-wildly-and-rely-on-not-getting-caught” business plan, just the first to boast about it to potential shareholders.

Greenpeace filed a complaint in September with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, stating that China Tuna was deliberately misleading investors about the health of tuna populations. Campaigner Elsa Lee was amazed not at China Tuna’s Machiavellian business plan, but at its candor. “Having a company write it down, and in some sense shamelessly admitting that they’re running around the rules,” she says, “is really quite amazing.”

In a letter of response to Greenpeace, China’s Bureau of Fisheries stated that while Dalian Ocean Fishing, China Tuna’s subsidiary, currently holds licenses for 17 vessels to operate in the Pacific, “the Ministry does not give approval to companies registered overseas to conduct offshore fishing activities, and thus the company’s actions are already in violation of relevant laws and regulations.” So it would appear that China issued fishing licenses to China Tuna without realizing it’s a Cayman Islands company run by a foreign national.

The statement was also at odds with the company’s draft IPO, which described a series of tax breaks and state grants from the Chinese government for its deep sea fishing activity.

The Bureau of Fisheries also told Greenpeace that it was shocked – shocked! – to find overfishing in its establishment. Overfishing occurs because “China is a developing country, its offshore fishing companies are still weak, levels of management are still uneven, and the management system still needs to be steadily improved,” states the agency.

Perhaps. Once wholly state-owned, 70% of the Chinese fishing industry has been privatized in recent years. It’s certainly plausible that the government is struggling to retool.

But China expert Tabitha Mallory believes there is more to it. She says fishing lies at the intersection of Chinese ambitions for military expansion and food security. While many political analysts refer to the 21st century as “the China century”, Mallory told the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission in 2012, China also calls it “the ocean century.” She points to a 2010 Chinese task force report stating that “marine biological resources are seen as the largest store of protein, therefore owning and mastering the ocean means owning and mastering the future”.

In this view, fishing boats become Trojan horses for expanding international power. China does, in fact, send military boats along with fishing boats into disputed fishing waters, sparking clashes with neighbors such as Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea. China would not be the first nation to tie fishing to military or political expansion, however. For example, my own reporting on tuna in the Western and Central Pacific suggests the United States bases its aid to allies in the region at least in part on tuna treaties.

Although the Hong Kong Stock Exchange recently ordered China Tuna to suspend its draft IPO, the document offers unusual if indirect acknowledgement of China’s habitual overfishing all over the globe. Glenn Hurry, head of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, says China will “hopefully face hard questions at the next regional fisheries meeting.” But don’t hold your breath. The fisheries management organizations that regulate the world’s ocean commons, like the rest of the fishing world, are completely nontransparent. No media allowed.

Shannon Service frequently reports on oceans and fishing, and is currently working on a documentary, The Ghost Fleet, about slavery in the international fishing industry.

This story was produced by the Food and Environment Reporting Network, an independent, non-profit news organization focusing on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

Original source link here

Sad News: Lung Mei To Be Turned Into An Artificial Beach Despite Conservationists Appeals

A year-long legal battle to preserve Lung Mei Beach (Plover Cove, NE New Territories) has ended in defeat, meaning a controversial plan to turn the current beach into an artificial beach for recreational swimming will go ahead..

“Save Lung Mei Alliance” activists claimed that the government failed to take ecologically valuable and rare seahorse Hippocampus kuda into account in its assessment. They demanded that the government conduct another environmental impact assessment.

But the government argued that it had already assessed the impact of the project on marine life. In this study, the High Court judge said, the according to the first environmental impact assessment the number of Hippocampus kuda seahorses found at Lung Mei was not significant and that their presence did not mean that Lung Mei was the only habitat of the rare seahorses.In other words, the rare seahorse in only present in low numbers and just because this rare seahorse is found here does not mean it could not exist somewhere else we don’t know about, so we will go ahead with bulldozing the habitat and potentially wiping out the seahorses there – you never know we might find them somewhere else, too. 

Two seahorses, one roundbelly cowfish and an eight-fingered dragonet were found after the release of the EPD permit, in its “professional” opinion the AFCD said that construction work will not pose a danger to the creatures, since the damage is not expected to be worse than expected by the EPD , the chief executive and the Executive Council will not revoke the permit. Note the contradiction in saying “the project does not pose a danger to the creatures” and “the damage will not be worse than expected”. How can damage of the habitat not pose a danger to the creatures living there? Hong Kong Government logic, it seems.

“At this stage we will study the judgment with our lawyers first,” Ho Loy of the Lung Mei Alliance said. She hopes the government will respect the group’s right of appeal and not immediately start construction work.

Lung Mei Beach, which the government wants to turn into an artificial "beach" that swimmers will apparently enjoy more than a real beach.
Lung Mei Beach, which the government wants to turn into an artificial “beach” that swimmers will apparently enjoy more than a real beach.

Whale Shark Caught off Fujian, Butchered for Sale on the Street

As reported by news163.com on Friday the 1st of August 2014 a fisherman in Xiangzhi, Fujian province captured a 4.5-meter-long, two-ton whale shark that died soon after its struggle to escape.

The fisherman, Cai Chengzhu, said that as he and his colleagues began to pull their net out from the water, when they spotted a huge hole formed by the “giant fish”. “It’s believed that the giant animal broke the net and got inside to eat the fish we caught,” he said.
Note: the whale shark is the biggest fish in the world, but it’s not a predator and it consumes only microscopic plankton, not large fish as Mr. Cai seems to think.

Image by news163.com
Image by news163.com
fujian-whale shark-3
Image by news163.com
fujian-whale shark-5
Image by news163.com
fujian-whale shark-7
Image by news163.com

According to commentary by Coconuts Hong Kong,  “plankton flourishes in clean water, the presence of whale sharks is a sign of a healthy ocean area.” As a marine biologist I can pretty safely say that this statement is absolute BS (bovine faeces). Filthy water also has plankton…frequently huge amounts for example toxic algal blooms, jellyfish swarms – their all plankton, too.

The fishery department identified the whale shark, a second-class national protected animal. Regulation states that whale sharks should be set free right away if caught by fishermen. However, Cai transported the whale shark to land with a tractor. He reportedly planned to sell it for 10,000 to 20,000 yuan (about HKD 12,500 – 25,000 or USD 1,600 – 3,200) before he knew what the animal was. It’s illegal to buy or sell whale sharks, the largest known extant fish species. They can live as long as 70 years to 100 years. Whale sharks are classified as vulnerable by the WWF, and threatened by unregulated fishing for their fins and oil.

Cai Chengzu said that he originally decided to bring it to market, where he planned on selling it … but officials from the Fujian fisheries department refused to allow the sale of the endangered species. However, Chengzu seems to have sidestepped the ban for a curbside fire sale of shark meat, according to photos published by Shanghaiist. The fisherman butchered and auctioned the whale shark off at charity prices because “threatened species” laws are apparently about as enforced as “no-smoking” ones in China. This highlights once again the great need for more environmental education in China.

butchered-wshark1
Image by the Shaghaiist
butchered-wshark2
Image by the Shaghaiist
butchered-wshark3
Image by the Shaghaiist

Fortunately, despite this particular story, the global shark fin trade is on the decline. However, the statement from the Shanghaiist, that “various shark’s species are staging a comeback, thanks in part to Xi Jinping’s anti-extravagance campaign” is once again utter BS. A decline in the rate of killing of sharks does not in any logical way equate to a “comeback” – especially not in the space of one year. This is simply wishful thinking! It will take many years for shark species to recover to anything like their former populations from decades of global exploitation.

Whale sharks are sometimes found in Hong Kong waters, too, for example a whale shark was spotted at Sham Wan on Lamma by swimmers in July 2012 and in June 2008 a trawler caught a 5m whale shark and then released near Round Island (AFCD press release ). Tragically that shark later died and ended up in a landfill (WWF HK statement).

 

HK Airport 3rd Runway Risks Loss of Hong Kong’s Remaining Dolphin Population

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.

WWF Infographic showing threats to the chinese white dolphin in Hong Kong (click to enlarge to original size)
WWF Infographic showing threats to the chinese white dolphin in Hong Kong (click to enlarge to original size)

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.

Green groups protest against man-made beach

ON the 8th of October the Hong Kong Standard carried this article on a protest by green groups against the construction of an artificial beach at Lung Mei, Tai Po. The proposed HK$130 million “bathing beach” aims to satisfy demand for swimming facilities from nearby Tai Po.

The plans involves:

(a) a 200m long beach with a groin at each end of the beach;
(b) a beach building includes :
(i) public changing rooms and toilets;
(ii) shower rooms;
(iii) equipment/machinery stores for catamarans, motorized boats, beach
transporters, beach cleansing and sand levelling machines, etc;
(iv) dangerous goods stores; and
(v) ancillary facilities including management office, lookout/surveillance
post, first aid room, staff changing room/toilet, staff room/pantry, store
rooms, etc.
(c) retaining structures;
(d) refuse collection point;
(e) outdoor shower facilities;
(f) lookout towers;
(g) shark prevention net;
(h) a fee-paying public car park for about 100 private cars, 10 motorcycles
and 10 coaches;
(i) landscaped areas;
(j) drainage diversion of an existing box culvert and Lo Tsz River; and
(k) sewerage construction works.

(Download the 2005 Project Profile)

Artificial beaches classify as one of the stupidest uses of money and time ever dreamt up:

  1. The government amusingly calls this project “construction of a bathing beach”. It might look like a beach from a far, but as soon as you enter the water (to bathe) you will know what was there before. Anyone who has ever been swimming at the Tai Pak beach in Discovery Bay (artificial) will know this. Once in the water you will sink ankle-deep in smelly, fine mud! Equally it will not be a fine beach at Lung Mei once you are in the water…
  2. The dumping of sand will obliterate the existing flora and fauna which as green groups have already pointed out includes rare butterflies.
  3. Where will the sand come from?500,000 m3 will be dredged up about 200 from the Conservation Area at Tai Mei Tuk causing silting of the water which also damages that local environment. In addition the LoTsz River will be diverted and not 500 m away from the proposed diversion lies Hong Kong’s 4th largest mangrove area which is also designated as an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).
  4. Beaches occur where the currents and waves are strong enough so that only large grained sediment will be deposited. Small grained mud and silt gets carried off to somewhere quieter leaving the bigger sand grains behind. Dumping sand to create an artificial beach is not going to change the fact that it is not a tropical beach environment. Many artificial beaches turn out to be disappointing or even unpleasant for beach goers: sand flies, mosquitos , smelly mud in the water with unpleasant rotten-egg smell etc. or razor sharp rocks or shingle – all consequences of trying to force a tropical beach look onto  a different  environment e.g. a mangrove area,  mud flat, tidal beach etc.
  5. Who will pay for this nonsense? And why can this money not be spent on cleaning up Hong Kong’s toxic air?

Once again, Hong Kongers can only shake their heads at the incompetence of their government which spends HK$130 million to damage the environment beyond repair because its cheaper than building a swimming pool….

The Conservancy Association also has a good article on the issue here.

HKWildlife.net (Blog) has some more info in Chinese