LCQ15: Conservation of Chinese white dolphins

     Following is a question by the Hon Kwok Wai-keung and a written reply by the Secretary for Environment and Ecology, Mr Tse Chin-wan, in the Legislative Council today (November 23):


     According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, the Chinese white dolphin (CWD) is listed as "Vulnerable". It has been reported that as revealed by the findings of a research project, in 2021, the combined estimate of CWD abundance in the four main survey areas, namely Southwest, West, Northwest and Northeast Lantau, was 40, and there was a decline of nearly 80 per cent in their total population in 18 years. Some environmental groups have pointed out that sea smuggling activities have increased significantly in recent years. Smuggling speedboats moving at a high speed in the waters have seriously disturbed the habitats of CWDs, and quite a number of CWDs have even been injured or killed after being hit. In addition, the successive implementation of major reclamation projects will also pose threats to the habitats of CWDs. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of smuggling speedboats speeding within the areas of marine parks where there were CWD habitats (e.g. the Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park, the Southwest Lantau Marine Park and the South Lantau Marine Park (SLMP)) and, among them, the number of those intercepted, as well as the respective numbers of persons arrested, prosecuted and convicted, in the past three years;

(2) of the number of carcasses of CWDs found in Hong Kong in the past three years;

(3) given that SLMP was designated as a marine park in June this year, of the technique to be applied and measures to be taken by the authorities to conserve CWDs and their habitats in the vicinity of such waters; what actual data are available to support that the establishment of marine parks can effectively conserve CWDs, and whether it has estimated the number of CWDs that can be recovered by the establishment of marine parks; and

(4) of the measures in place to prevent various major reclamation projects from disturbing the habitats of CWDs and threatening their lives and safety?



     As one of the important measures for the conservation of Chinese white dolphins (CWDs) in Hong Kong, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) conducts continuous monitoring on marine mammals in Hong Kong. The habitats of CWDs in Hong Kong mainly concentrate at southwest, west, northwest, and northeast Lantau waters, and the AFCD conducts over 100 vessel surveys every year at relevant waters. The average numbers of CWDs obtained by year from the surveys in the past six years (i.e. 2016 to 2021) were 47, 47, 32, 52, 37 and 40 respectively. In 2021, using the photos of CWDs collected during the surveys, researchers have identified 106 individual dolphins through photo identification technique, indicating that a considerable number of CWDs are still using Hong Kong waters as their habitat.
     Having consulted the Security Bureau and the Development Bureau, our consolidated reply to the four parts of Hon Kwok Wai-keung's question is as follows:
(1) The AFCD's regular management work in marine parks includes monitoring of vessel activities inside the parks. In the past three years, the AFCD conducted sea patrols in Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park, the Brothers Marine Park, Southwest Lantau Marine Park as well as South Lantau Marine Park which was just designated in June this year, of the Lantau waters, and did not identify any case regarding speeding of marine vessel. The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department and the Hong Kong Police Force do not maintain records of vessels exceeding the speed limit nor smuggling speedboat found within the areas of marine parks.

     According to the monitoring of marine mammals conducted by the AFCD, there is no evidence at the moment indicating that the distribution of CWDs is affected by smuggling vessel activities. The AFCD would continue to monitor the occurrence of CWDs.

(2) In the past three years (i.e. 2019 to 2021), the numbers of CWDs stranded in Hong Kong were nine, 11, and six, accounting for 16 per cent, 21 per cent, and 19 per cent of the total cetacean stranding cases in the respective year.

(3) Establishing marine parks has always been an effective marine conservation measure under the AFCD. To further protect important marine life in Hong Kong waters, the Government has been designating more marine parks in recent years to protect the relevant habitats. With the designation of the Southwest Lantau Marine Park and the South Lantau Marine Park (SLMP) in 2020 and 2022 respectively, the total sea area under protection in Hong Kong is more than 6 000 hectares. At the same time, the AFCD is also preparing for the new designation of the North Lantau Marine Park. Upon the completion of its designation, the total sea area under protection in Hong Kong will exceed 8 500 hectares.

     As regards the SLMP, the area of the marine park is around 2 000 hectares. The activities within the related waters are regulated by the Marine Parks Ordinance (Cap. 476) and its subsidiary legislation including restrictions on new development works and vessel speed. In addition, an area of about 145 hectares (or about 7 per cent) between the Soko Islands in the SLMP is demarcated as the core area. Apart from the prohibition of fishing activities, artificial reefs would also be deployed and fish fry would be restocked in the core area to further improve marine biodiversity and foster fisheries resources in south Lantau waters, thereby attracting more marine life (including CWDs) to inhabit. The Government will continue to strengthen publicity and education, ecological monitoring as well as management and enforcement work related to the conservation of marine parks.

     Establishing marine parks or similar marine protected areas is internationally recognised as an effective conservation method in general. The setting-up of the SLMP will have a positive effect on the conservation of CWDs and finless porpoises in the long run. As the major infrastructure projects near Lantau waters progressively come to completion, there is a possibility that the dolphin number would gradually increase in the next few years and occurrence would become more frequent in SLMP. The AFCD will continue to closely monitor the change in abundance and trends of dolphins, but is currently unable to project the exact timetable or actual number of the recovery of dolphins.

(4) Large-scale reclamation projects are Designated Projects under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Ordinance. According to the requirements under the EIA Ordinance, the project proponent of designated projects has to conduct EIA to assess the potential environmental and ecological impacts. In general, if a proposed reclamation project is located near the habitats of CWDs, the EIA study has to conduct an ecological impact to assess the possible direct or indirect impacts of the project on CWDs. In accordance with Section 4.3 of the Technical Memorandum on EIA Process (TM) under the EIA Ordinance, the project proponent shall assess the cumulative environmental effects resulting from the concurrent construction and operation of their projects and other projects. Regardless of whether the impacts involve an individual project or the accumulation of multiple projects, the project proponent needs to propose mitigation measures that meet the requirements of the TM. As regards CWDs and other ecological impacts, the priority of "avoidance-minimisation-compensation" must be taken into account for the mitigation measures, such that the most suitable construction scheme for the works is proposed by considering the avoidance of environmental issue creation as the top priority. For instance, reclamation technologies nowadays are already able to effectively reduce the impacts on surrounding water quality and ecology. The commonly adopted "non-dredged reclamation method" and "deep cement mixing method" can avoid the process of seabed silt removal, which not only avoids the environmental pollution caused by the process, but also greatly reduces the impacts from reclamation works on CWDs. The Environmental Permit conditions issued under the EIA Ordinance will also specify the mitigation measures recommended by the EIA reports, to ensure the implementation of the measures.

Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Issued at HKT 11:45