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Hong Kong Losing Coastal Treasures?

Shloka Vishweshwar

Credit: Getty images - Andre Seale

When we think of Hong Kong, we envision lit-up streets, tall skyscrapers, and city skylines. But for such a small area, Hong Kong boasts a genuinely amazing variety of aquatic life. Despite comprising just 0.03% of China's oceans, a 2017 study indicated that Hong Kong's waterways are home to more than 6000 marine species. Hong Kong is home to more mangrove species than all of East Africa, more hard coral species than the Caribbean Sea, and some enormous, well-known marine species, such as Chinese white dolphins, finless porpoises, and green turtles.

Despite this, Hong Kong’s waters are in poor condition. A total of 2,000 hectares of sea area have been designated for coastal reclamation, adding to the 7% of Hong Kong's land area that has been reclaimed over the past century and endangering coastal ecosystems.

Because of boat strikes, marine mammals in Hong Kong are much more likely to sustain serious or fatal injuries. The local Chinese white dolphin population has decreased by more than 80% over the past 15 years as a result of these challenges. If action is not taken promptly, it is highly likely several species will be vanquished from Hong Kong’s waters.

Local fishing fleets have also been a large contributor to the devastation of marine life. Even as the government works to ban the most damaging methods of fishing, the activity is still generally unregulated. Given Hong Kong’s hearty appetite for seafood and booming seafood markets, harmful fishing continues in abundance.

It is clear that Hong Kong's waters require stronger management, and marine protected areas are one of the finest methods to do it (MPAs). MPAs enable natural habitats to recover and increase the amount and diversity of species within them, including endangered and commercially significant species. MPAs are known to use the best methods and knowledge currently available, resulting in increased fish dispersal outside of MPAs as well as the recovery of regional fisheries. Six MPAs, from Cape D'Aguilar Marine Reserve to Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park, have been formed in Hong Kong over the years.

But even these marvel machines have their limitations. Merely 5% of Hong Kong’s surrounding waters are currently protected by MPAs. Additionally, the current MPA system has a number of flaws that reduce its effectiveness, such as the absence of a clear management plan, objectives for creating new ones, and lack of involvement from stakeholders (e.g, academics, conservationists, fishermen).

How Can Hong Kong Fix The Problem?

Hong Kong must urgently increase its use of MPAs to protect its marine wildlife. MPAs must be strategically placed in locations that attract the most biodiversity to maximise their effectiveness. Some potential marine diversity hotspots include South Lamma for its notorious green turtles or West Lantau for its collection of Chinese dolphins.

Furthermore, MPA management must improve with comprehensible action plans for the management of current MPAs. These may include clear targets for conservation that are met and updated regularly, as well as transparent, long-term monitoring plans. Hong Kong must also set objectives for creating new MPAs to cover more potential hotspots and encourage stakeholder investment to ensure the best results are carried out.

In terms of overfishing, Hong Kong’s seafood markets would do well to support sustainable fisheries. Maintaining the wellness of fish is critical for the seafood markets, as without any fish there is no income. Fishery management is a crucial incentive to protecting marine environments which the government should push much more on.

Hong Kong is not just a concrete jungle. We are a vessel of wildlife and biodiversity. While most of us may forget, we are home to an abundance of species that enrich our country and lifestyles. Let’s give our animals the respect and protection they deserve.



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