Tag Archives: conservation

Pregnant Chinese White Dolphin Found Dead On Lamma Island Beach

On the morning of the 2nd July (2017), a man fishing at Kat Tsai Wan, off the west coast of Lamma Island, found a 2.5 meter long pink dolphin washed up on the beach. The man told Apple Daily that he could tell from his boat that the animal was dead.

The Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong (OPCFHK) response team visited the site and conducted a necropsy on the beach. The dolphin was an adult female and was carrying an unborn calf at full term.


The male calf measured 1.02 m in length,  was also dead. The foundation said in a statement that no net entanglement or evidence of physical trauma was found on either carcasses, and both were severely decomposed.


The OPCFHK team said the mother dolphin’s organs and flesh indicated that she was very healthy prior to her death. The team has took organ, blubber, and tissue samples for further testing, inlcuding for microplastics.

Young Dolphin in Tuen Mun Marina

A young pantropical spotted dolphin was seen swimming in the Gold Coast Marina in Tuen Mun. The dolphin is estimated to be about 1 m in length, has apparently been in the area for over a day, with Apple Daily reporting that it had been stuck for 27 hours at around 2pm yesterday (27/1/16).
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) was then notified, and sent three officers to observe the situation.

While Apple Daily maintains that the young cetacean is trapped by the boats in the harbour, President of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, Hung Ka-yiu, told Hong Kong Animal Post that he believes the dolphin was simply lost and would not require human assistance at the moment.

Hung identified the dolphin as a young pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata), a species often seen in Taiwan, but not common in Hong Kong’s waters, and the second most abundant dolphin species in the world. Hung also theorised that the dolphin was only in Hong Kong by mistake, and said he hoped it would eventually find its way back out to the ocean.

The AFCD said it would discuss future measures with dolphin experts at Ocean Park, and reminded yachtowners not to disturb the animal.

Saltwater Crocodiles, Local Celebrity and the HK Wetland Park

Did you know that large, man-eating crocodiles used to roam throughout across coastal southern China? Historical records indicate they ranged from Vietnam all the way up to the lower Minjiang River in present day Fujian province and even to the Penghu Islands of Taiwan. As you might have guessed that range also includes the lower Pearl River and present day Hong Kong and Macau.

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Pui Pui-Hong Kong Reptilian Celebrity

On the 2nd of November 2003 a saltwater crocodile was spotted in the Shan Pui River (山貝河) near Yuen Long and caused a media frenzy in HK. For several weeks Australian crocodile hunter John Lever tried unsuccessful to capture it and months of effort on the part of mainland Chinese experts also failed. Finally almost 7 months later on the 10th of June 2004 Hong Kong’s own AFCD’s conservation officers captured the crocodile after it wandered into a trap laid by the department. The 4-year old female crocodile’s measured 1.5m and weighed 14 kg and belonged the species Crocodylus porosus – the Saltwater crocodile or saltie. That is the same species that frequently makes headlines for killing humans (mostly tourists that ignore the eagerly advice) in Australia’s Northern Territory! Saltwater crocodile is one of the largest reptiles in the world. A mature male can reach 6 to 7 metres in length whereas female can reach 2.5 to 3 metres. Young saltwater crocodile feeds on insects, amphibians, small reptiles and fishes. Adults  feed on large animals like buffalo! Wild saltwater crocodile is widely distributed throughout Asian Pacific from coastal India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia to Northwest Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The current and historical ranges of saltwater crocodiles in SE Asia
The current and historical ranges of saltwater crocodiles in SE Asia (green=current, orange=extirpated (historical)).

By August 2004 a public naming competition was held before the animal was named “Pui Pui”. “Pui Pui” is a transliteration of the Chinese characters 貝貝 in the crocodile’s Chinese name, which is a pun indicating that it came from Shan Pui River and is the apple of the public’s eye. Although no one knows where the crocodile came from, it is suspected that she might be an illegal pet escaped from their owner’s home or was dumped into the river after she had grown too big.

Saltwater Crocodiles in China?

Records of saltwater crocodiles in China come primarily from the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) through to Song Dynasty (960 AD – 1279 AD); during this time period large crocodiles (presumably saltwater crocodiles) apparently preyed on both humans and livestock within the region. But the saltwater crocodile population decreased severely following the Song Dynasty.

The Chinese words/characters jiao or jiaolong anciently named a four-legged water dragon creature which may be identified as both “alligator” and “crocodile” . The “Dragons and Snakes” section of the (1578 CE) Bencao Gangmu – an ancient Chinese Medical Textbook – differentiates between a jiaolong (蛟龍) “Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)” and tolong (鼉龍) “Chinese Alligator, (Alligator sinensis)“. Most early references describe the jiaolong as living in rivers – which fits both “Chinese alligator” and “Saltwater crocodile” – and spending the tropical wet season in freshwater rivers and swamps. Comparing maximum lengths of 8 meters and 1.5 meters for this crocodile and alligator, respectively, “Saltwater crocodile” seems more consistent with descriptions of jiao dragons reaching lengths of several zhang (丈)”- (1 zhang = approximately 3.3 meters)”. Early texts often mention capturing jiao. For example the (ca. 111 CE) Hanshu records the catching of a jiao 蛟 in 106 BCE. So these may be historical but cryptic references to Saltwater Crocodiles in China. Jialong, incidentally, is also the name of China’s deep-sea submersible.

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The most recent records of the saltwater crocodile within China comes from a record in Guangxi province from the 19th Century and some bone fragments found in Hong Kong in 1922. Although I tried my best to find any information on the 1922 bone fragments, it turned up nothing (if anyone has any information on this and can help, please leave a comment!). It appears likely that the species became extinct in all of China well over a century ago and already dissapeared from most of its Chinese habitat many centuries ago. A sharp increase in the human population in the region about 600 years ago and the widespread destruction of habitat that followed is likely to blame for their disappearance.

But Pui Pui was by no means the last appearance of a large crocodilian in Hong Kong:

  • In 2012 , a 1.2-meter-long crocodile was found abandoned in an aquarium at a refuse-collection station in Tai Po. This was a abandoned pet, though.
  • In 2014 a man living along the coastal Siu Lam area in Hong Kong’s Tuen Mun district said he spotted a five-foot-long crocodile at the waters near his villa but unfortunately he could not get his camera in time and later searches by the police failed to find the animal. A cleaning worker whom the police spoke to also said that a security guard told her that a crocodile-like creature appeared at the beach by the housing estate two days earlier, but it was gone when both of them went to check.  As a result several public beaches including Golden Beach, Cafeteria Old Beach and Castle Peak Beach were temporarily shut.
What happened to Pui Pui?

Three days after its capture the crocodile was moved to Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden (KFBG) where it had access to open-air enclosures, ponds, shelters and natural settings that were more suitable for healthy growth and where vets could monitor it. It then spent the first 3 months in quarantine before moving it into an open-air enclosure. Initially it refused to eat.

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In 2006 Pui Pui was moved again to the newly built Hong Kong Wetlands Park in Tin Shui Wai. There she has a 72-square-metre outdoor enclosure with pool area, landscaped and equipped with infra-red heaters, heat pads and a weighing scale.
The general public got its first glimpse of Pui Pui exploring its outdoor enclosure in the Hong Kong Wetland Park in September 2006. At that time Pui Pui had grown to 1.75 m I. Length and 19.5 kg in weight. Now Pui Pui is about 15 years old, and according to the latest information (February 2015) from the AFCD it now measures 2.46 m in length and weights about 58.5 kg! You can see her for yourself at the HK Wetlands Park where she will be likely basking in the sun or feeding on fresh fish and chicken.

Pui Pui's Home at the HK Wetland Park
Pui Pui’s Home at the HK Wetland Park
Pui Pui’s Fame

In December 2004 Alan Jefferies and Liang Yue wrote a bilingual children’s book based on Pui Pui’s story called “The Crocodile Who Wanted To Be Famous” with illustrations by Mariko Jesse. The story is about a television-loving crocodile named Crafty that swims from his riverside village to find fame in the big city. His arrival is front-page news all around the world, but once there, he begins to question what he really wants.

The Crocodile Who Wanted To Be Famous by Alan Jefferies, illustrated by Mariko Jessse, translated by Liang Yue
The Crocodile Who Wanted To Be Famous by Alan Jefferies, illustrated by Mariko Jessse, translated by Liang Yue

 

Chinese White Dolphin’s Back Slashed Likely Caused by Outboard Motor

A Chinese white dolphin was spotted off the coast of Tai O with slash injuries across its fin and back believed to have been caused by a collision with a tour boat’s outboard motor.

Despite the injuries – some of which appear to be several inches deep – a marine scientist who observed the dolphin believes it still has a fighting chance. But tour guides operating dolphin-spotting excursions were warned to steer clear of it.

The dolphin was found near Tai O village at around 4.30pm on Saturday (17th of January 2015). Video and photos taken by members of the University of Hong Kong Swire Institute of Marine Science, clearly show the dolphin swimming along with large gashes on its back and tail.

Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Samuel Hung suspected they have been caused by propeller cuts from the outboard engine of a walla-walla – a type of small motorboat common in local waters which are often seen in the area for dolphin-spotting tours.

“The injuries are very serious,” said Hung, but despite the cuts the dolphin appeared “surprisingly tough” and was seen swimming, rolling around and even feeding on fish near the water’s surface.

Many more motorised tour boats arrived at the scene to view the injured dolphin by late Saturday afternoon putting the animal at greater risk. Hung urged all tour boats not to get too close to the dolphin. He also said that at this point, based on its behaviour, the dolphin would not require further intervention such as rescue or rehabilitation. “The last thing we want to do is to disturb this animal further,” he said.

The 2013 survey estimate of the number of dolphins in west, northwest and northeast Lantau areas is 62 dolphins (similar to the 2012 estimate). That is the lowest of the past decade.

Southeast Asian Territorial Disputes Are Literally Killing Off Coral Reefs

This week Bloomberg’s Adam Minter wrote a great article on the plight of the South China Seas coral reefs and their large scale destruction in the name of territorial Claims by China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
I have written about this previously (here and here), and I am happy that a professional journalist – for a widely-read news publisher no less – has devoted some time and effort to bringing media coverage to this issue.
Below are some new and interesting insights from extracts of the article ( BloombergView “Victims Under The South China Sea” 26/11/2014).

[…] in the South China Sea, where nations seeking to enforce their territorial claims have not always spent much time worrying about the environmentally and economically valuable reefs under the waves. How valuable? A 2011 report to the UN General Assembly on coral reefs noted that seafaring Asian nations count between 100,000 and “more than” 1 million coral reef fishers among them.

One might think that governments, pressed by those fishermen, would be striving to preserve fragile reef systems. But just the opposite has happened. According to a 2013 study by Australian and Chinese scientists, the South China Sea’s atolls and archipelagos have seen their coral cover decline to 20 percent from averages of 60 percent or more just 10 to 15 years ago.

The large-scale reclamation of reefs for military purposes is just the start of the damage. What happens after can oftentimes be much worse. “If 1,000 soldiers are stationed at any one time in a place, they typically cut down vegetation and cause runoff, generate sewage,” says Terry Hughes, a marine biologist and director of the Queensland-based Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Draining into the sea, runoff is deadly for coral: In coastal China, where cities also tend to discharge effluent into the ocean, 80 percent of all coral has died off. In 1980, the amount of coral cover near a large Taiwanese military outpost in the disputed Spratly Islands was 60 to 70 percent. By 2007 it had declined to 17 percent, according to the 2013 study, which Hughes led.

That sort of damage is likely to grow more common: In October, Taiwan’s top intelligence official revealed that China has seven ongoing South China Sea construction projects. When complete, they’ll join at least 20 additional reclamations owned by four other South China Sea claimants.

Even worse than the direct damage from construction projects is the political deadlock caused by various territorial disputes. The biggest threat to coral is the large-scale use of cyanide and explosives by the region’s fishermen. As Hughes’s 2013 study pointed out, at just one atoll, the number of fishing boats using cyanide and dynamite to kill fish increased nearly eight-fold between 1996 and 2001. By 2001, “virtually everything harvestable (e.g., fish, mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms) had been stripped from the atoll.”

Rogue fishermen are the immediate culprits, but a lack of governance and oversight allows them to continue their depredations. While that’s no secret to any of the six South China Sea claimants, they’re unlikely to agree on where or how to protect coral if they can’t agree on boundaries first. Instead individual countries have tried to impose fishing limits unilaterally, which no one else follows. “When it comes time for governance, everyone puts their hand up and that means no one,” says Hughes.

Nonetheless, Hughes remains optimistic, if only because corals can regenerate when protected and given time. (Decades are needed.) He suggests that in the absence of a broader agreement on regulating the South China Sea, scientists from the region might begin the discussion on how to protect reefs. Translating any recommendations into action won’t be easy. But it’s probably the best option for ensuring that soldiers and tourists won’t be the only living creatures left to enjoy the seas.

(Featured image shows structures built on top of Johnson Reef)

Tuna firm’s bungled IPO exposes China’s flouting of global fishing rules

Taken from the Guardian newspaper on the 27th of October 2014:
(Note: Tuna also occurs in HK waters, mostly on seasonal migration)

Reporting on international fishing can often feel like investigating organized crime. Everyone knows how things are run, but the truth is obscured by shell companies, back-door dealings, and plausible deniability.

This is why it’s remarkable that a recent, bungled initial public stock offering from a major Chinese tuna firm accidentally revealed something close to the truth about China’s fishing industry.

The failed IPO is the work of China Tuna Industry Group, which from 2011 to 2013 was the largest Chinese supplier of premium tuna to Japan’s hungry sushi market. Over 70% of its $62m in annual sales are made to a single company, Toyo Reizo, a subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. Hoping to raise over $100m to expand this profitable operation, China Tuna filed draft documents for the IPO in June.

China Tuna’s target fish stocks, Bigeye and Yellowfin tuna, are both in decline. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists Yellowfin tuna as “near threatened,” two steps into a seven-point scale that ends with extinction. Bigeye tuna, meanwhile, are already seriously overfished, as the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency declared this summer.

But for the IPO to succeed, the company had to convince potential shareholders that chasing after dwindling resources would be a profitable venture. So China Tuna leapfrogged over more recent data to cite a 2011 fisheries assessment that rated Bigeye tuna at a “healthy level of abundance” and “not overfished”.

Despite this claim’s shady appearance, it’s hard to know whether China Tuna’s overly rosy assessment of Bigeye tuna stocks was deliberate. The IPO filing is a draft, so fact-checking is by definition ongoing.

But the company did declare in the draft IPO that it intended to circumvent international conservation limits on tuna – by simply ignoring them. In a series of circular arguments, the document stated that China, which presides over the world’s largest long-distance fishing fleet, would not crack down on companies engaged in illegal fishing because it never had in the past; that the catch limits set by the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations apply only to China the country, not to actual Chinese fishing boats; and that even if the catch limits did apply, the regional fisheries organizations would not enforce them because “there is no sanction for non-compliance with Bigeye catch limits.”

I wanted to contact China Tuna for comment on these statements. The IPO revealed that China Tuna is a transnational corporation under the communist Chinese flag, operating Japanese and Chinese vessels and registered in the Cayman Islands. Its primary shareholders are Li Li, a 24-year-old woman with a passport from St Kitts, and her dad, Li Zhenyu.

As I tried to track down Li Li’s tuna giant, I discovered that like many big fishing companies, China Tuna is hard to reach. Seeking a phone number for the firm’s operations office in Hong Kong, I found that not only is China Tuna’s office number unlisted – the company doesn’t even have an office.

So I tracked the address in the IPO filing back to a firm named Asialink. At first Asialink denied any connection with China Tuna. When confronted with the fact that its address had been listed in a recent publicly filed document as China Tuna’s operations headquarters, Asialink acknowledged a connection, but refused to provide any comment or additional contact information.

Then I called China Tuna’s biggest subsidiary, Dalian Ocean Fishing. The woman who answered the phone at first claimed no knowledge of China Tuna. After a little more conversation, she acknowledged that China Tuna was Dalian’s parent corporation, but refused to comment further or put me in touch with company directors.

I have yet to speak with anyone who admits to working directly for China Tuna. But the firm’s combination of bravado and impenetrable corporate structure offer clues as to why the health of the oceans is in freefall. China has told the world that from 2000 to 2011 it caught 368,000 tons of fish annually in international waters. But as the Wall Street Journal reported in 2012, the European Commission estimates the catch at closer to 4.6m tons or 12 times greater.

So China Tuna is obviously not the only Chinese company implementing the “overfish-wildly-and-rely-on-not-getting-caught” business plan, just the first to boast about it to potential shareholders.

Greenpeace filed a complaint in September with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, stating that China Tuna was deliberately misleading investors about the health of tuna populations. Campaigner Elsa Lee was amazed not at China Tuna’s Machiavellian business plan, but at its candor. “Having a company write it down, and in some sense shamelessly admitting that they’re running around the rules,” she says, “is really quite amazing.”

In a letter of response to Greenpeace, China’s Bureau of Fisheries stated that while Dalian Ocean Fishing, China Tuna’s subsidiary, currently holds licenses for 17 vessels to operate in the Pacific, “the Ministry does not give approval to companies registered overseas to conduct offshore fishing activities, and thus the company’s actions are already in violation of relevant laws and regulations.” So it would appear that China issued fishing licenses to China Tuna without realizing it’s a Cayman Islands company run by a foreign national.

The statement was also at odds with the company’s draft IPO, which described a series of tax breaks and state grants from the Chinese government for its deep sea fishing activity.

The Bureau of Fisheries also told Greenpeace that it was shocked – shocked! – to find overfishing in its establishment. Overfishing occurs because “China is a developing country, its offshore fishing companies are still weak, levels of management are still uneven, and the management system still needs to be steadily improved,” states the agency.

Perhaps. Once wholly state-owned, 70% of the Chinese fishing industry has been privatized in recent years. It’s certainly plausible that the government is struggling to retool.

But China expert Tabitha Mallory believes there is more to it. She says fishing lies at the intersection of Chinese ambitions for military expansion and food security. While many political analysts refer to the 21st century as “the China century”, Mallory told the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission in 2012, China also calls it “the ocean century.” She points to a 2010 Chinese task force report stating that “marine biological resources are seen as the largest store of protein, therefore owning and mastering the ocean means owning and mastering the future”.

In this view, fishing boats become Trojan horses for expanding international power. China does, in fact, send military boats along with fishing boats into disputed fishing waters, sparking clashes with neighbors such as Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea. China would not be the first nation to tie fishing to military or political expansion, however. For example, my own reporting on tuna in the Western and Central Pacific suggests the United States bases its aid to allies in the region at least in part on tuna treaties.

Although the Hong Kong Stock Exchange recently ordered China Tuna to suspend its draft IPO, the document offers unusual if indirect acknowledgement of China’s habitual overfishing all over the globe. Glenn Hurry, head of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, says China will “hopefully face hard questions at the next regional fisheries meeting.” But don’t hold your breath. The fisheries management organizations that regulate the world’s ocean commons, like the rest of the fishing world, are completely nontransparent. No media allowed.

Shannon Service frequently reports on oceans and fishing, and is currently working on a documentary, The Ghost Fleet, about slavery in the international fishing industry.

This story was produced by the Food and Environment Reporting Network, an independent, non-profit news organization focusing on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

Original source link here

Sad News: Lung Mei To Be Turned Into An Artificial Beach Despite Conservationists Appeals

A year-long legal battle to preserve Lung Mei Beach (Plover Cove, NE New Territories) has ended in defeat, meaning a controversial plan to turn the current beach into an artificial beach for recreational swimming will go ahead..

“Save Lung Mei Alliance” activists claimed that the government failed to take ecologically valuable and rare seahorse Hippocampus kuda into account in its assessment. They demanded that the government conduct another environmental impact assessment.

But the government argued that it had already assessed the impact of the project on marine life. In this study, the High Court judge said, the according to the first environmental impact assessment the number of Hippocampus kuda seahorses found at Lung Mei was not significant and that their presence did not mean that Lung Mei was the only habitat of the rare seahorses.In other words, the rare seahorse in only present in low numbers and just because this rare seahorse is found here does not mean it could not exist somewhere else we don’t know about, so we will go ahead with bulldozing the habitat and potentially wiping out the seahorses there – you never know we might find them somewhere else, too. 

Two seahorses, one roundbelly cowfish and an eight-fingered dragonet were found after the release of the EPD permit, in its “professional” opinion the AFCD said that construction work will not pose a danger to the creatures, since the damage is not expected to be worse than expected by the EPD , the chief executive and the Executive Council will not revoke the permit. Note the contradiction in saying “the project does not pose a danger to the creatures” and “the damage will not be worse than expected”. How can damage of the habitat not pose a danger to the creatures living there? Hong Kong Government logic, it seems.

“At this stage we will study the judgment with our lawyers first,” Ho Loy of the Lung Mei Alliance said. She hopes the government will respect the group’s right of appeal and not immediately start construction work.

Lung Mei Beach, which the government wants to turn into an artificial "beach" that swimmers will apparently enjoy more than a real beach.
Lung Mei Beach, which the government wants to turn into an artificial “beach” that swimmers will apparently enjoy more than a real beach.