Letter to the Editor: On dolphins and runways

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As a “spectator” in the room provided for the public at the Advisory Council for the Environment’s meeting on the HK Airport’s proposed runway, and its impact on the Chinese White Dolphins, it was to this author’s dismay and discouragement that any realistically valuable efforts to protect the dolphins were not put forward.

By Doug Woodring

The Council’s comment that there was no “thinking out of the box” for solutions, both for the dolphins, and for working with the community trying to protect them, was spot on.


Instead of focusing on the dolphins between now and the estimated finishing date of 2023, the consultants suggested the creation of a “park” once the damage has been done.   Furthermore, it tried to divert the attention from the construction itself and the vessels needed for the next seven years, to the speed of the ferries going to China, which they also admitted they had no jurisdiction over once they leave Hong Kong waters.   Declines in dolphin spottings within Hong Kong waters and acoustic recordings of construction works on the new bridge are evidence enough to show significant impact on the dolphin’s habitat.

Offsite compensation

If the Airport Authority truly cares about the environment it is impacting and the community it serves, it should be offering offsite compensation areas for the dolphins, which can then be complemented with the marine “park” it is proposing around the airport after 2023.   Offsite compensation is a common practice for large projects in other countries where something is being taken from the community, but why is it not part of “best practice” in Asia’s World City?  Given the $130bn bill for this project, and the fact that the government has previously earmarked marine “parks” in Western Lantau and the Soko Islands which are known dolphin habitats, it is surprising that the Airport Authority does not take the lead as a good corporate citizen, to turn these “parks” into reality.  It should be working closely with the government, and the small number of stakeholders (fishermen) who have somehow stopped the AFCD in its tracks for the past decade from putting these “parks” into place.  

Parks not up to par

“Parks” are in quotations because Hong Kong’s definition of marine parks do not match those of other countries’, with even the AFCD admitting at the meetings that fishing is allowed in “parks”, including purse seine methods and gill netting.  When asked at the meetings, the consultants also did not seem to know the difference between a “park” and a “reserve” in the Hong Kong context.  What the dolphins need is dedicated breathing space, starting from today, not in the next decade. This must be in the form of new “reserves” which have tighter regulations and enforcements than what we call “parks” today.   By putting these “reserves” into place in Western Lantau and the Soko Islands, a genuine, collaborative community solution will be created.  This will alleviate a lot of the bad-will which is being created today by proposals which have been poorly thought out and offered as a minor token to the community this airport is meant to serve.