25-7-2011 - Threats endangering the survival of Hong Kong's dolphins

There are so many threats endangering the survival of Hong Kong’s dolphins, the following are the major ones:

Pollution (The following data is old, it is very difficult to get hold of updated figures but they are sure to be much higher.)

  • Every day, Hong Kong produces 2 million tonnes of liquid waste, and 22,500 tonnes of solid or semi-solid waste. 70% of this is untreated.

  • About 450,000 cubic metres of raw, semi-processed sewage is dumped into the harbour every day, enough to fill 200 Olympic size swimming pools.

  • Tributyltin (TBT), an anti-fouling agent that affects the immune system of dolphins, enters the water from floating drydocks off the north shore of Lantau.

  • The Pearl River brings down industrial effluent, municipal waste, and agricultural runoff from a large area of China.

  • Dredging and dumping projects stir up contaminated sediments from the sea floor.

  • Organochlorines such as PCBs and DDT are present in the food chain.

Habitat Loss

  • Construction of the airport at Chek Lap Kok at early 90s for replacing the old Kai Tak Airport resulted in the reclamation of 9.5 square kilometres of prime dolphin habitat.

  • Tsingyu Highway, the north Lantau expressway, linking the airport to the rest of Hong Kong, is the result of further reclaimed many square kilometres, most of it shallow water and untouched coastline which was important fish breeding ground and hence dolphins’ feeding ground.

  • The river trade terminal between Tuen Mun and Castle Peak Power Station, sits on land reclaimed in 1999 and 2000.

  • Hong Kong Disneyland is built on a large piece of reclaimed land in Penny's Bay (dredging for preparation of the site resulted in huge quantity of highly contaminated mud and sediments which wasn’t safe to dump anywhere but incinerated in Tsing Yi and this received fierce opposition from residents there for fear of the threat to their health as dioxins may become a by-product and emit during the incineration). It also involved substantial reclamation along the coastline for the road network and the Disney train station and parking lot in Yam O (literally means cloudy bay, named as Sunny Bay to match the theme park).

  • Expansion has undergone for this world's smallest Disneyland, which means more marine habitat being turned into concrete.

  • More reclamation is planned along the North Lantau coast to make room for housing, roads, and commercial developments; the Government doesn’t seem to believe in more than enough damage has been done.

  • Lung Kwu Tan, the bay north of Castle Peak Power Station, will be reclaimed for more container terminals.

  • The Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge – a large man made island will be built at the east of the Airport for the cross border facility, in addition to the supporting points throughout the length of the Bridge which cuts right across the Pearl River Delta, ie, the world’s major habitat of the Chinese White Dolphins. Once in use, the Bridge will be an expressway of fumes from vehicles, further depleting the air quality in that used-to-be pristine part of Lantau. Dolphins breathe the same air we do. Residents in Tung Chung have complained of worsening health due to bad air quality brought by the aircrafts and existing road traffic there. Scientific researches have proven that air pollution cuts short life span of citizens and incurs heavy social cost for medical expenditure. Click here read more about counter proposals and arguments.

  • Third runway at Chek Lap Kok International Airport – the proposed 3rd runway will mean reclaiming nearly 4000 hectares (about half the size of the existing airport), snatching away an even more critical dolphin habitat than those for building the airport because the remaining habitat has already been so much smaller than the pre-airport time. The new land to be created is not only for just one more runway but also another passenger terminal. We have to question whether this HK$130 billion project is indeed necessary and whether better land use of the existing airport has been fully exploited. What’s more, the argument for another runway is purely based on the speculation that the maximum capacity of the airport will reach in 2020, again based on pure assumption that the economy will continue to grow non-interruptedly and that the number of flights that will use the Chek Lap Lok Airport will continue to increase at a steady trend as a result of that “expected” continued economic growth. Even if such estimation/prediction is 100% accurate, can Hong Kong live with the fact that there will be a limit to the number of flights it can accommodate? If such concept is good enough to build another runway, what happens when the three-runway airport is yet again expected to reach its maximum capacity? Can we keep filling up the dolphin habitat with concrete non-stop?


Fishing industry in Hong Kong is hardly regulated. Hong Kong's fishing catch has been declining since 1989 as a tragic result of decades of overfishing. Most of the fish caught in the western harbour are not big enough, or the right species, to be sold. They are what is called "trash fish", and are ground up and fed to other fish, in mari-culture areas or fish ponds.

At long last the Government has decided to ban trawling in Hong Kong waters but strong opposition has been expressed by fishermen, not that they do not want to stop trawling as they admitted themselves because it has been more and more difficult to make a decent living by fishing in Hong Kong but they simply do not agree to the proposed compensation. The ban is scheduled to be effective by the end of 2012, let’s hope that there will be no delay or change of mind of our policy-makers.

Boat Traffic

The Urmston Road shipping channel, between Lung Kwu Chau and Castle Peak Power Station, carries over 70 boats an hour during the day. Scars and cuts that we have seen on so many dolphins are hard evidences of the animals not being able to escape the propellers. Aside from the danger of direct collision, boat engine noise would interfere with the dolphins' ability to echolocate and communicate with each other in addition to the stress on the animals – imagine yourself having to cross a highway back and forth frequently on a daily basis but without the aid of traffic lights. Proven by scientific researches, stress can cause chronic health problems such as ulcers, hypertension and heart diseases etc.

What can you do right now, and every day, to help the dolphins?

There are actually many things that we all can do and should do. Most of them may seem very small and insignificant, but if enough people do them, the effect can be enormous. Many of these things may not seem very relevant to dolphins, but nature works in mysterious ways, and things are more interconnected than you think.

Eat organic vegetables and fruits

Pesticides, especially organochlorines, can persist in the environment and often end up in the oceans. If more and more prefer organic produce, the price will go down.

Conserve water

The less water goes down your drain, the more efficiently your sewage system can treat sewage. Choose a dual flush toilet and don’t let the tap keep on running when you wash your dishes or vegetables. Use a big bowl to hold the water and save it after rinsing vegetables, fruits or rice for watering your plants. Save rain water if you can, it can be used for many ways such as mopping the floor. Cut short the time for a shower and keep soaking in a full tub of water for just very occasional luxuries.

Eat less seafood

Much of our seafood is caught in destructive ways: dynamite fishing, cyanide fishing, and driftnets. Around the world, fisheries are being overexploited. Surf the web and find out what species are endangered and avoid ordering them; when there is a demand, there will be a supply. Tuna nets have killed millions of dolphins all over the world, Blue Fins caught are smaller and smaller in size, a sure sign of unsustainable fishing. Shark fins are harvested in very cruelly. Fishermen cut out the fins and dump the still alive fish back to the sea, letting it die a slow and painful death. Many sharks are hunt to the brink of extinction. There is absolutely no proven health benefit in eating shark fin. Please do not go to seafood restaurants that serve shark fin soup, tell your friends that they should avoid serving shark fin soup in their wedding banquets or any sort of gatherings.

Use "cleaner" household cleansers

One part of white vinegar mixed with one part of water is good enough to clean your home, kill 90% of the bacteria and keep it free from harmful chemicals from products found on the shelves of supermarkets. The smell will go away very quickly. Even if you want to buy ready-made cleansers, read the labels on detergents, polishes, disinfectants, etc., and choose those that damage the environment less or best, use products that are made from herbs and natural substances, not chemicals. Ask your local green groups for advice.

Buy hemp clothing or unbleached cotton

Normal cotton is a very pesticide-intensive crop. Hemp is generally grown without pesticides. Bleaching fabrics is a very polluting process.

Don't buy shells, coral, or other marine animal products

By buying these things, you encourage people to go out and harvest more; this can often lead to destruction of the marine environment.

Cut down on consumption generally

Everything you buy is shipped around the world by airplanes, boats, or trucks. Manufacturing processes use up raw materials and create pollution. Think about this every time you want to buy something, and ask yourself how badly you need it. Buy local produce and products whenever possible to cut down on the carbon footprint.

Don’t buy excessively packaged products and bring your own bag

Think of what you have to throw away after unwrapping the things you buy – you pay for the packaging and wrappings too and they will end up in landfills, another high hidden cost to us all. Many places will not give out plastic bags for free but require a charge if you ask for one. So why not bring your own bag and cut down on the consumption of plastic bags/carrier bags while at the same time saves money? Non-woven bags are made of plastic and hence not that environmentally friendly unless reused repeatedly. Do not accept more of such give-away-bags to send a clear message that people should not keep producing them.

Cut down on fossil fuel consumption

Petroleum is shipped around the world in boats. Every once in a while, these boats crash, and spill tons of oil into the sea. If you use less, they'd ship less. Burning coal to generate electricity pollutes the air more than any other means. Pressure the Government and electricity companies to explore greener choices for supplying electricity to your home. Install your own solar panels if possible. Switch off electricity devices and lightings when not in use. Switch to using energy saving electrical products. There is no need to have the air-conditioning in full blast. Keep the temperature to 25 degree Celius is the most comfortable room temperature. If you like to have it cooler, have a fan on as well which boosts the circulation of the cool air which is surprisingly effective and energy saving.

Donate usable but no-longer-needed things instead of throwing them away

Clothes, toys, books, DVDs, things you haven’t even unwrapped after buying….do you know how many of those things you have? You would be surprised to find out, though you don’t even remember having them but they still take up precious space in your home, collecting dust. Donate them to your favourite charity groups for supporting their fundraising or giving away for free to those less fortunate than you are.

Discarded computers and other electronic devices are particularly polluting if they are not treated properly, the toxin inside will get into the soil and seep into the underground water table when it rains, that means fresh water source tapped into by wells that millions rely on for staying alive will be polluted and becoming life threatening instead of life giving. The toxin will also be absorbed by vegetation and will find its way to the food chain which means it will get us eventually, including the dolphins we so love who do not have access to the medical weapons that scientists have invented to combat the diseases resulted from a polluted environment.

Say no to further destruction to natural habitat of wildlife

Most of the big ideas to “develop” the still untouched, beautiful parts of Hong Kong which are rich in flora and fauna are for bigger income of developers. We really don’t need anymore theme park, hotel, resort, shopping mall….etc, especially not in our remaining pockets of natural wonders. Many people come to Hong Kong to experience its unique natural beauty that isn’t easily available in other parts of the world and these bring in revenue while preserve nature which is a win-win situation. If we only bring in things from other places or copy their models by pouring more concrete into the sea or on natural beaches and green fields for building more and more of those lack-of-character structures, how can Hong Kong be unique to tourists? Why would they come here if things we offer are just the same as those found in any city anywhere else? Chines White Dolphin is one of the very special natural wonders that we still have, don’t wait till they all disappear as a tragic result of our lack of care and short-sightedness of the much bigger picture.

Send letters to voice your opinion

Please speak out for our dolphins and write to:

  1. The Director, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department, Cheung Sha Wan Government Offices, 303 Cheung Sha Wan Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong, e-mail: afcdenq@afcd.gcn.gov.hk
    Ask for: Additional marine reserves around Lantau; publication of a plan to fulfill Hong Kong's obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity (identify and monitor biological and genetic resources, set up protected areas to safeguard them, develop long term strategies, plans, or programmes for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity); monitoring of fish stocks and regulation to prevent overfishing.

  2. The Director, Environmental Protection Department, Southorn Centre, 24/F, 130 Hennessy Road, Hong Kong, email: enquiry@epd.gov.hk

Ask for: Strict monitoring of developments in or near coastal areas of North Lantau, Sha Chau, and Castle Peak; upgrading of sewage treatment for airport and North Lantau new towns, and for outfalls in Urmston Road area.

  1. Mr Donald Tsang, Chief Executive, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, P.R. C., Central Government Offices, email: ceo@ceo.gov.hk
    Ask for: all of the above. A general reprioritization of environmental issues.

  2. Ministry of Environmental Protection, P.R.C., email: advice@mep.gov.cn
    Ask for: Stricter enforcement of effluent controls on the Pearl River, crackdown on suppliers and users of prohibited pesticides such as DDT.


Join groups

Here are some suggestions:


Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society

Friends of the Earth (HK)

World Wide Fund for Nature (HK)

Green Power

Conservancy Association

Save Our Shorelines


Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

Green Peace

Sea Shepherd

Humane Society International