July 26, 2022
Featured image: Sham Wan
HONG KONG (July 26th, 2022)
Marine conservation nonprofit Mission Blue has declared Hong Kong South a Hope Spot in recognition of the work from Hope Spot Champions Sharon Kwok Pong, Dr. Robert Lockyer, and Professor John Wong with local NGO AquaMeridian Conservation & Education Foundation (AquaMeridian) to push for a formal marine protected area (MPA) in Hong Kong.
Since 2015, Aquameridian has been working hand in hand with other community NGOs alongside the local government to increase the level of protection offered to the local endemic species, including finless porpoises, sea turtles, horseshoe crabs, and the iconic Chinese white dolphins.
Hong Kong once was home to more than 6,000 species of fish, more than 100 species of coral and large cetaceans such as the finless porpoise and the iconic white dolphin. “Sadly, as water sports have become more common and the number of marine pleasure craft increase each year, we see more and more injuries to marine life, almost to the point of totally wiping out some local populations”, explains Dr. Robert Lockyer, Hope Spot Champion and environmentalist and educator with AquaMeridian. He continues, “Take our local sea turtles for example; it’s really disheartening when we see the numbers of “boat strikes” increase, and yet we see no new nestings. However, we witness that every year more and more sea turtles are being reported in Hong Kong’s waters.”
The southern waters of Hong Kong are a unique, highly connected enclave in the South China Sea. The designated Hope Spot, in excess of 41,700 hectares, includes areas of South Lantau, Soko Islands, South Lamma, Aberdeen, Po Toi and Cape D’Aguilar. Hong Kong South Hope Spot possesses vibrant biodiversity and lies within the historical migratory route for whales (e.g. minke, humpback, brydes and gray whales) and dolphins (bottlenose dolphins, risso dolphins), sea turtles, and squids. The endemic Bahaba taipingensis, also known as the giant yellow croaker, can occasionally be found in these waters. “Historically, the Bahaba was once commonly found in the Pearl River estuary, and throughout the Hong Kong South Hope Spot area, but is now critically endangered”, Dr. Lockyer explains.
Together, through the initiating work of a few Hong Kong-based youth including Natalie Man, Pandie Ho and local educator Smriti Safaya, they are working towards the reintroduction of the once-iconic species that frequented the waters of Hong Kong – more than 41,700 hectares of coastal waters. “We see our local waters which were once teeming with life, have now been decimated by bad cultural habits, poor judgment and traditional medicine myths from the past”, Sharon Kwok Pong explains. “We spend days in meetings with the government and with other marine groups, hours going from school to school to give talks and help educate our youth as to the preciousness of our oceans, and it is through the creation of Hope Spots around the globe that we will start to see a change for the better in human habits and marine conservation.”
The Champions are hopeful of building community support for the marine protected area through educational programs and strengthening the local ecotourism industry. Most importantly, they support comprehensive policy and subsequent enforcement of a marine protected area.
“We want everyone to know how important the ocean is to our own health, as humans,” explains Sharon Kwok Pong. “Sustainable seafood just isn’t an option anymore – for many species, there is no such thing as sustainable consumption. It’s up to each of us to do what we can to alleviate the pressure on the ocean.”
AquaMeridian has been working to raise awareness for marine protection and lobby for the importance of sustainable development of coastal areas as well as marine waste issues such as plastics, abandoned ghost nets and marine debris. They’ve been successful in gathering support from legislators at the Hong Kong Government Legislative Council of Hong Kong (Elizabeth Quat, Paul Zimmerman) to time and push the Hope Spot agenda forward. AFCD have supported extending the protection of Sham Wan, and Cape D’Aguilar. We have recently seen Soko Islands, and South Lantau Marine Parks become Hong Kong’s MPA, through the action of this marine conservation group.
Sharon Kwok Pong says, “All waters are connected and much of marine life tends to travel great distances, so it is difficult to select a specific area to protect. In an ideal world, all of our oceans should be protected, but since we are not quite there yet, we start with vital areas of special interest.” She continues, “From corals, cetaceans, to sea turtles, Hong Kong’s southern waters are home or host to a great number of threatened and endangered species. We aim to continue educating the public while working with the government and other like-minded parties to improve protective legislation and policing.”
She describes how the Hong Kong government is turning the tide on its approach to marine conservation. “Due to the failure in monitoring the established MPAs (Marine Protection Areas) in Hong Kong, critics refer to Hong Kong’s existing MPAs as “paper parks”, with illegal cross-border ships from China continuing to fish in the protected zones, hence a breach of trust between local fishermen (who were originally supportive of the MPAs), local Government and NGO groups. However, the Hong Kong government expressed their commitment to expanding the area’s marine protected areas and improving enforcement.”
Instrumental in the origins of the Hong Kong South Hope Spot, Smriti Safaya, an educator and PhD candidate says, “As an educator who helped lead the initial gathering of multi-stakeholder support from schools, NGO’s marine hobby groups even up to government level applaud that this new area is now a Hope Spot and all the collective action that has gone in to see it be fulfilled. She says, “Never underestimate how individuals can contribute and join forces with each other because there is always more help and hope for Hong Kong’s waters than we realize.” She continues, “Residents of the local villages are willing to help and stop egg poaching, and we want to reach out to them and get them engaged; that ecotourism is better than poaching.” She stresses that on an individual level, people can reduce their fish consumption. They are also looking for more divers who can help with fishing net cleanups.
“While Protecting Marine environment and marine life, we are actually protecting ourselves and our future generations. Reduce and cut wastes, Nature has no place for rubbish – we must remove them”, says Professor John Wong, who is engaged in the marine sector with the Qatar Government. “We’re seeing life come back; we must push Hong Kong to fulfill their ocean protection goals and invest in a healthy future for our waters”, he describes.
AquaMeridian’s ultimate goal for the Hope Spot is that through fighting for its protection, Hong Kong’s marine community would come together to inspire and educate future generations towards sustainable and responsible care of the area. “From students who are rebuilding coral communities, divers who are shedding light on marine debris to fishermen who must now heed sustainable fishing practice, every person can and must become a part of positive change”, explains Dr. Lockyer.
Founded by artist, celebrity and avid marine conservationist, Ms. Sharon Kwok in 2013 and Peter Jackson, AquaMeridian Conservation and Education (AquaMeridian) is a registered Hong Kong-based non-profit organization that aims to educate and engage the public – particularly in Hong Kong – about wildlife conservation and sustainability issues through creative and cross-cultural programs. In 2018, AquaMeridian has become an official member of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
Click here to view the share files on Hong Kong South Hope Spot.