WWF Lobbying Government for Additional Marine Parks

WWF yesterday (31st May) published “Sea for Future: Conservation Priority Sites for Hong Kong”, in which it proposed designating West Lantau, South Lamma, Shui Hau, Ninepin Group and Pak Nai as marine parks.

WWF also proposed to turn Sharp Island and Shelter Island in Port Shelter, as well as Tolo Harbour, into marine protected areas.

This would restrict developments in marine parks, limit boat speeds and ban the collection of marine creatures.

However, compared to marine parks the marine protected areas would have more lax regulations also be regulations.

Under the proposal the waters off Tai O and Yi O would be combined into a western Lantau marine park.

Tai O and Fan Lau are the only remaining core habitats of the dolphins, whose numbers have dropped from 188 in 2003 to just 47 in 2017.

Together with existing plans for two marine parks near Chek Lap Kok and southwest Lantau, the Tai O a marine park would provide a protected corridor for the dolphins during construction of the third runway.

A core dolphin conservation zone around Tai O would ban coastal development and put restrictions on traffic.

The South Lamma, Sham Wan, is the only nesting site for the turtles in HK, and its beach is closed to visitors during their nesting period between June and October.

But waters off the beach are not covered by the ban, and the area is popular with recreational boats. These affect the turtles, as they have to swim past to go onto the beach.

Human disturbances can prevent female green turtles from nesting.

The turtles were last spotted nesting there in 2012. Marine park status would limit human access to the beach and nearby shallow waters, control disturbance to the turtles and limit the speed of vessels to minimize risks of collision.

WWF also suggested making Shui Hau Wan in Lantau a marine park to protect horseshoe crabs. No-take zones should be created, and partial closures should to be implemented during their breeding season.

This should also be done in wetland Pak Nai in Yuen Long, a habitat for globally-endangered black-faced spoonbills.

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Extend restricted zone at Lamma turtle beach to keep out junk parties, urge green groups

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

Turtles Returned to the Sea

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) released three green turtles, comprising two juveniles and an adult, and a juvenile hawksbill turtle in the southeastern waters of Hong Kong yesterday (June 23 2014).

The juvenile green turtles and juvenile hawksbill turtle were found by members of the public and staff members of the AFCD on Clear Water Bay Second Beach and Campers’ Beach in Sai Kung and Yan Chau Tong between October 2012 and May this year.

After an initial check-up by the AFCD, the turtles were taken to Ocean Park (OPHK) for a thorough veterinary assessment. Since then, they have been looked after at OPHK with constant monitoring and veterinary care.

The adult green turtle had been kept by OPHK since 2002. It was among the hatchlings artificially incubated from a batch of eggs collected in Sham Wan on Lamma Island in 2001. Due to a slight deformity found in its shell, it had been looked after by OPHK since then.

Current weights of the juvenile turtles ranged from 4.05 to 12.85 kg and their shells were from 35 to 47cm in length, while the adult turtle weighed 76.5 kg and its shell was 79cm. All of them were in good condition, indicating that they were ready to be returned to the sea. The AFCD is thankful to the public for their immediate reports, and the veterinarians and aquarium staff of OPHK for their efforts in taking care of these sea turtles.

Before returning them to the sea, the AFCD tagged each turtle with a microchip and Inconel tags for future identification, and attached a satellite transmitter to its back. By tracing their oceanic movements and locating their feeding grounds, the AFCD can collect data for formulating appropriate conservation measures and share findings with various conservation authorities. This will be conducive to the effective protection of the species among nations.

The green turtle and hawksbill turtle are globally endangered and critically endangered species respectively. Members of the public are urged to report any sighting of sea turtles to the department via 1823 to help protect them. The AFCD will continue its efforts in sea turtle conservation through monitoring, habitat management and educational activities.

In Hong Kong, all sea turtle species are protected under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap 170) and the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap 586). Of the five sea turtle species found in Hong Kong waters, the hawksbill turtle is relatively rare and the green turtle is to date the only species known to nest locally.

Call for Protection of South Lamma Waters for Turtles

The following item was taken from the SCMP of the 7/6/2014. I should mention before you read it, that the AFCD is supposed to close Sham Wan and clean up the beach for nesting season from 1st of June each year, but a personal acquaintance of mine confirmed that by 8th of June this year nothing had been done and Sham Wan was covered in rubbish and the bay was full of pleasure craft and water skiers….either the rules changed or AFCD is not doing its job.

“Give Hong Kong’s green turtles a fighting chance to survive”

Five species of sea turtle can be found in Hong Kong. One of them, the green turtle, actually nests here. This giant used to nest on the beaches of several offshore islands, and the eggs were harvested and sold by local villagers. Now, only Sham Wan on Lamma Island supports a very small breeding population.

A decline in sea turtle populations has been observed in many locations across Asia. One increasingly significant cause is the exploitation of turtles for trade in their products or even in whole specimens.

A report by Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, indicates that there has been an increase in demand for sea turtle products in China. There have also been strong indications that some fishing vessels from China are targeting sea turtles in their operations in tropical Asia. This is reflected by a growing number of cases of Chinese fishing vessels being detained by Southeast Asian countries and protected sea turtles being found on board.

Green turtles are slow to mature: it takes between 26 and 40 years before they are able to breed. Once they reach adulthood, they have few natural enemies and can live and reproduce for a long time.

The most vulnerable stages of their lives come when they are in the egg and when they are small hatchlings. It is estimated that only two to three turtles in every thousand survive to return to their natal beaches to breed.

Their exceptional orientation abilities ensure that they can find their way across vast oceans to return to the natal beach to nest; however, when subject to heavy exploitation, breeding becomes extremely difficult and it takes a long time for a depleted population to bounce back, as there is unlikely to be any “recruitment” from other, healthier populations.

Another special adaption of sea turtles is that their sex is determined by the temperature at which their eggs are incubated. If the incubation temperature is below 29 degrees Celsius, males, predominantly, will be produced, while only females will be produced at temperatures above 30.4 degrees. Rises in temperature resulting from climate change pose a great uncertainty for their future survival.

Green turtles migrate long distances from their breeding sites to feeding grounds, which increases their chance of coming into harm’s way. Satellite tracking by Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department shows turtles can travel several hundred kilometres from Hong Kong, to waters near Hainan Island , eastern Guangdong and Vietnam. Adults feed mainly on algae and sea grass but also eat some invertebrates. They often mistake pieces of floating plastic for squid. Today, ingestion of non-digestible plastics is a common cause of sea turtle death.

Hong Kong’s nesting green turtle population now probably consists of just a few adult females. Some years may see zero nesting activity.

In 1999, the government established Sham Wan as a restricted area, with no entry allowed without a permit during the nesting season. The fisheries department also patrols the nesting beach, and when natural incubation of the eggs is deemed too risky, artificial incubation will be carried out.

These efforts have resulted in baby turtles being hatched successfully either naturally or artificially.

However, the weakest link in conserving this species here is that the coastal waters adjacent to the nesting beach at Sham Wan are not protected and are subject to disturbance from people engaging in water sports.

It is in these same shallow waters that male green turtles will wait for the females – to mate with them before they lumber up the beach to lay their eggs.

The waters around South Lamma were identified as a potential marine park or reserve in a previous planning study. Indeed, with the Convention on Biological Diversity being extended to Hong Kong in 2011, we have a responsibility to contribute to the convention’s biodiversity targets, one of which states that 10 per cent of coastal and marine waters should be conserved as protected areas by 2020.

To save the remnants of our green turtle population, we should spare no effort to protect the waters off Sham Wan and give these turtles space and time, and thus the best possible chance, to recover.

Michael Lau (senior head of programme for local biodiversity & regional wetlands at WWF-Hong Kong).

Whale Shark at Sham Wan update

A whale shark Rhincodon typus was spotted at Sham Wan on Lamma Island on 27th of June 2012

The whale shark, Rhincodon typus, is a slow, filter feeding shark that is the largest living fish species in the world. It feeds on small shrimps, fish and plankton. The shark is found in tropical and warm oceans and lives in the open sea. The species poses no danger to humans.

This video clip was made by a member of the public and posted on Youtube. I take no responsibility or credit for the content of this clip. You can see that the shark is struggling in the rocky shallow water just off the beach (ca. 5 to 10 meters by my estimate). Eventually it makes its way back to sea. Reports suggested that it may have been spotted again off Deep Water Bay on the 3rd of July, but could not be confirmed. Whale sharks are found in tropical waters world-wide, so its presence in Hong Kong is not surprising. In fact, on the 6th of June 2008 at about 2pm a trawler caught a 5m whale shark and after identification by the Agriculture and Fisheries Department in at the pier off the Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market it was released back at to the waters of Round Island around 4.30pm (see AFCD press release linked here). Tragically it died and ended up in a landfill (WWF HK statement).

Given how much sharks fin is traded and eaten in Hong Kong its more surprising that the shark got away without being caught, mutilated and sold for sharks-fin soup. What is really interesting is that this beach is not just a turtle breeding spot with AFCD protection and a beautiful scenic spot thanks to the regular clean-ups done as part of the turtle protection, but it also has some nice hard coral areas in some places and now a whale shark! I think it should be declared a Marine Park. Who is with me?

Exciting news: Whale Shark spotted at Sham Wan, Lamma Island

 

Whale shark at Georgia aquarium
Source=en:Image:Whale shark Georgia aquarium.jpg |Date=16 September 2006 |Author=User:Zac Wolf

Exciting news: Whale Shark spotted at Sham Wan, Lamma Island

Ignore the sensationalist newspaper reporting about terror stricken families etc.

We had a benign, plankton feeding whale shark in Hong Kong!!! How cool is that! Lots of people pay a lot of money to swim with one of these, using helicopters and spotter planes to find them.

Whooohooo!