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 commitment to push for a formal marine protected area (MPA) from Hope Spot Champions Sharon Kwok Pong, Dr. Robert Lockyer, and Professor John Wong, with local NGO AquaMeridian Conservation & Education Foundation (AquaMeridian).
Since 2015, Aquameridian has been working hand in hand with community NGOs and 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 marine life, including more than 100 species of coral, and transient large cetaceans and two resident dolphins, the shy finless porpoise and the iconic white dolphin. “Sadly, as watersports 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. “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 island and waters off Southern Lantau, the Soko Islands, South Lamma Island, Aberdeen, Po Toi Island and Cape D’Aguilar MPA. “The Hong Kong South Hope Spot possesses exceptional biodiversity and lies within the historical migratory route for whales (e.g. minke, humpback, brydes and gray whales) and dolphins (bottlenose dolphins, risso dolphins etc. ), sea turtles, and squids, and not just the well-known species, take the Bahaba taipingensis, (also known as the giant yellow croaker) which is endemic to Hong Kong’s waters, we see historically the Bahaba was once commonly found in the Pearl River estuary, and throughout the Hong Kong South Hope Spot area, with spawning grounds in Hong Kong, but is today on the IUCN Red List as “Critically Endangered.”
Together, through the initiating work of a few Hong Kong-based marine enthusiasts 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, joining forces with local marine conservationist and actress, Sharon Kwok Pong, to protect more than 41,700 hectares of coastal waters. “We see our local waters which were once teaming with life, have now been decimated by bad cultural habits, poor judgment and traditional medicine myths from the past”, Sharon Kwok Pong explains. “We have spent 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 in 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, as she describes the dire conditions that the area’s marine life are in. “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. AquaMeridian have been successful in gathering support from legislators at the Hong Kong Government Legislative Council, such as Elizabeth Quat, and Paul Zimmerman to push the Hope Spot agenda forward. AFCD have supported extending the protection of both the Sham Wan Sea Turtle nesting site and the Cape D’Aguilar MPA. The South Lantau Marine Park is Hong Kong’s most recent MPA, through the action of many marine conservation groups and the AFCD.
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 their approach to marine conservation. “Due to the failure in monitoring the established MPAs 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. This is a breach of trust between local fishermen (who were originally supportive of the MPAs), the local government and NGOs. 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 and gathering multi-stakeholder support from schools, NGOs, marine hobby groups and local government, Smriti Safaya, a PhD candidate in environmental education with the University of York in the U.K., applauds the power of collective action. She asks that we “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!”
“While protecting the marine environment and marine life, we are actually protecting ourselves and our future generations. Reduce and cut waste, nature has no place for rubbish – we must remove it”, says Professor John Wong, who is the Marine Environment Adviser to the Ministry of Environment of Qatar Government. “We’re seeing life coming back, we must push Hong Kong to fulfill the UN’s Ocean Decade Goals protecting 30% of marine environments by 2030, and by investing in a healthy future for our waters to benefit both the local community and marine life”, he describes.
AquaMeridian’s ultimate goal for this Hope Spot is that through fighting for its protection, Hong Kong’s marine community would come together to inspire and educate current and 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 practices, every person can and must become a part of positive change.
About AquaMeridian Conservation & Education
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.