Hong Kong’s entire surface area is about 2,754 km². Fully 60% is water; just 40% is land. However, whilst about 40% of Hong Kong’s land area is under environmental protection in Country Parks, only about 2% of Hong Kong’s water surface area enjoys some protection in Marine Parks, and only 0.01% is fully protected in a Marine Reserve. Why such a discrepancy?
Jeffrey Lee, Living Seas Hong Kong
Two distinct marine environments bless Hong Kong: the west side forms part of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) and is brackish and estuarine. Its iconic symbol is the Chinese White Dolphin, whose numbers have dwindled by over 75% in the past two decades. The east side opens directly into the South China Sea and is almost entirely marine. It hosts at least 84 species of hard corals, more than the entire Caribbean Sea and nearly 10% of the world’s total. Over 1000 fish species have been identified in Hong Kong.
However, this once rich and vibrant marine ecosystem has been heavily degraded and faces four main threats: Reclamation, Dredging, Pollution and Overfishing.
Has the Hong Kong government taken any measures to safeguard its rich marine ecosystem? Some government initiatives include the establishment of 5 marine parks and one marine reserve over the past 25 years and also a ban on certain fishing methods, including bottom trawling in 2012. In 2021, the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) gazetted new regulations to prohibit commercial fishing in 4 of the marine parks. However, this is far from enough.
What else can be done?
We can strengthen Hong Kong’s Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP). Hong Kong is a signatory to the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and formulated a BSAP (2016) according to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Target 11 required that at least 10% of coastal and marine areas be designated marine conservation areas by 2020. This goal is consistent with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) #14 regarding the marine environment, but the Hong Kong Government removed this target from the BSAP just before submitting it, as well as greatly limiting the scope of marine sustainability objectives in its final submission. It would be best if Hong Kong formulated policies in a BSAP specifically to meet the Aichi CBD targets and the UN SDGs.
We can establish a Fisheries management system based on science, data analysis and enforcement to provide for a sustainable seafood resource from both mariculture and wild caught sources. This also is part of UN SDG no. 14.
We can expand Marine Protection Areas (MPAs), including No-Take Zones to preserve proper ecological balance to support uses, such as fishing, recreation and biodiversity, as well as controlling development in the land area surrounding marine protection areas. Currently, only the Cape D’Aigular Marine Reserve, a mere 20 hectares, is designated as a no-take zone.
We can institute laws and regulations regarding Species protection. Marine fish and invertebrates are specifically excluded from the Wildlife Protection Ordinance and are not addressed in the Fisheries ordinance. At least species on CITES endangered lists and species of local ecological importance should be covered.
We can establish measures to specifically address Marine Pollution, including both water quality and marine debris, especially single-use plastic and abandoned fishing nets. Both have seriously exacerbated in recent years, and the Government has not expressed any concrete action plan to address this. Some progress in recent years include the establishment of a desk in the AFCD to report ghost nets, and collaboration with WWF (World Wide Fund) to keep statistics on ghost net sightings and cleanup. Little progress has been made to address problems of pollution caused by chemicals, agricultural runoff from the PRD, waste and debris.
We can require that an independent Marine Impact Analysis be conducted with each infrastructure and reclamation project. This includes engaging independent scientists and the community at large to achieve sustainable marine ecosystem goals.
The six measures outlined above can be undertaken directly by the Hong Kong government without requiring direct cooperation from other countries or entities. However, the marine environment in Hong Kong, as elsewhere, is also affected by climate change and ocean acidification caused by greenhouse gases. This can lead to coral bleaching and marine dead zones, not to mention rising sea levels. Hong Kong should do its part to cooperate with the rest of the world to meet global targets.
As individuals, we can also do our part. We can limit our seafood consumption to only that from sustainable sources. We can reduce our household and commercial waste, including single-use plastics. We can also educate ourselves, learn how our activities impact the marine environment and support groups and entities trying to address these issues.
The next generation is counting on us to bequeath to them a vibrant and healthy marine ecosystem. Let’s make it happen.
Jeffrey Lee is the Executive Director of Living Seas Hong Kong (LSHK). LSHK is a Hong Kong based not-for-profit community organisation comprised of concerned residents who are urgently seeking the implementation of strategic local marine protection programs and policies aimed at revitalizing Hong Kong’s unique marine ecosystem.