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Hong Kong’s Ecological Hotspots Need Protection

15 November 2016 | World Wildlife Fund-Hong Kong News Release

A new WWF Marine Ecological Hotspot Map published today reveals that only five of the 31 (16 per cent) identified ecological hotspots in Hong Kong are protected and actively managed, with their area covering less than two per cent of our marine and coastal areas. WWF urges the government to lay out a roadmap for meeting one of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Targets of conserving at least 10 per cent of our marine and coastal areas of high conservation importance.

The Marine Ecological Hotspots are areas hosting representative, rare or threatened species and habitats that merit conservation and scientific research. They are shortlisted in a first of its kind project by WWF in collaboration with more than 30 marine experts including the city’s leading academics. The evaluation, which took almost a year to complete, was based on the best available information and six globally recognized scientific criteria for identifying Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs).

Examples of the Marine Ecological Hotspots are West Lantau (the current core habitat of Chinese white dolphins), Ha Pak Nai to Tsim Bei Tsui (part of the city’s largest intertidal mudflat that supports large numbers of waterbirds and largest population of horseshoe crabs locally), and Hoi Ha Wan (a marine park rich in corals and reef fish).

Protecting these Marine Ecological Hotspots brings numerous benefits for people and wildlife. A 2015 report by WWF International estimated that for every dollar invested in creating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), we can expect at least tripled economic benefits in return through improvements in factors like employment, coastal protection and fisheries. Existing MPAs worldwide have proven that MPAs can reduce poverty, strengthen governance, and benefit human health and gender equality.

Determining Hong Kong’s Marine Ecological Hotspots is only the first step. In face of mounting threats from coastal development, Hong Kong is racing against time to conserve as much important marine habitats as we can. WWF will next work with experts to build a consensus identifying those Marine Ecological Hotspots in need for priority protection and management, and recommend appropriate conservation measures – such as establishing MPAs with no-take zones – to the government.  We will also work closely with different stakeholders to ensure the right balance is struck between societal and economic needs and environmental protection.

Samantha Lee, Assistant Conservation Manager, Marine, of WWF-Hong Kong urges all Chief Executive candidates to place marine conservation high on their agenda. “The city’s new leader should spell out the roadmap to designate at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine area of high conservation importance as protected areas by 2020. As such, Hong Kong will be able to meet one of the Aichi Targets of United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity, and leave a lasting Blue legacy for Hong Kong in the same way that Hong Kong’s previous government left a lasting Green legacy with our Country Park system.”

In regards to the latest development blueprint Hong Kong 2030 Plus, WWF asserts that developments should stay away from Marine Ecological Hotspots. Our experts will continue to scrutinise development proposals to minimise impact on the marine environment.

Dr Ang Put, who is one of the initiative’s key contributors and a leading researcher from the Marine Science Laboratory of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said “WWF should be lauded for coming up with this Marine Ecological Hotspot Map as it is so critical to be aware of the areas of conservation importance around Hong Kong for future developmental planning. This will help to ensure the conservation of these hotspot areas as part of Hong Kong strategic development in the future. Furthermore, a more in-depth scientific study could also be carried out within and around these areas to obtain a greater understanding of their ecosystem dynamics. All of these will contribute to achieving a sustainable Hong Kong marine environment.”

Dr Cynthia Yau, a marine biologist who has also contributed to the initiative, says “the seas around Hong Kong are home to a truly remarkable diversity of marine life, yet they face a multitude of threats from our ever-increasing conflicting demands in the use of our waters, such as navigation, fisheries, recreation, and coastal development. The Marine Ecological Hotspot Map can therefore help us better plan and prioritize which areas should be given more protection to ensure the survival of this rich marine biodiversity for future generations.”

Special thanks to Swire Trust for support the Sea For Future initiative.

List of Marine Ecological Hotspots in Hong Kong

1.    Bluff Island
2.    Crescent Island
3.    Crooked Island
4.    Ha Pak Nai to Tsim Bei Tsui
5.    Hoi Ha Wan
6.    Lai Chi Chong
7.    Long Ke Wan to Pak Lap
8.    Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay
9.    Ninepin Group
10.    Po Toi Islands
11.    Port Island
12.    Sharp Island
13.    Shek Ngau Chau and Breaker Reef
14.    Shelter Island
15.    Southern Waters
16.    Starling Inlet
17.    Tai Tam Habour
18.    Three Fathoms Cove
19.    Ting Kok
20.    Tung Chung Bay
21.    Tung Ping Chau
22.    Yan Chau Tong
23.    Cape D’Aguilar
24.    Sha Chau & Lung Kwu Chau
25.    Sham Wan
26.    Shui Hau
27.    Soko Islands
28.    Starfish Bay
29.    Tai Long Wan
30.    Victor Rock
31.    West Lantau Waters

Summary of present protection of key conservation areas in Hong Kong

Amount of Hotspots Designation Protection Hotspots
1 Marine Reserve Recreational activities and commercial fishing are banned from Marine Reserves. Only education and scientific research is permitted. AFCD is responsible for monitoring the ecology, environment and activities within Marine Reserves, enforcing the Marine Parks Ordinance.
  • Cape d’Aguilar
4 Marine Park Fishing, vessel speed, development are regulated within Marine Parks. AFCD is responsible for monitoring the ecology, environment and activities within Marine Parks, enforcing the Marine Parks Ordinance.
  • Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau
  • Tung Ping Chau Marine Park
  • Hoi Ha Wan
  • Yan Chau Tong
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) scientific criteria for Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs)
  1. Uniqueness or Rarity
  2. Special importance for life history stages of species
  3. Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats
  4. Vulnerability, Fragility, Sensitivity, or Slow recovery
  5. Biological Diversity
  6. Naturalness

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