The Chief Executive of Hong Kong and Secretary for the Environment,
We support Hong Kong government to conserve local biodiversity in accordance with the Convention on Biological Diversity (“Biodiversity Convention”) through designating at least 10% of Hong Kong’s waters as marine protected areas . We urge the government to review current marine spatial planning and the management work, and set a timetable in achieving the new target of protecting 30% Hong Kong’s waters by 2030 .
Let’s befriend the ocean on the World Oceans Day
The United Nations designates 8th June as the “World Oceans Day” calling for collective actions across the world to raise awareness of marine conservation among the community at large. We respond to the “World Oceans Day” to rebuild our relationship with the ocean and encourage Hong Kong community to “befriend the ocean”. Since marine resources are depleting and marine environment are threatened by human activities, we urge the government to protect the marine biodiversity and habitats which we rely on for many generations.
Our ocean and coastal regions are rich in biodiversity
Hong Kong has recorded 5,943 marine species, including about 1,000 fish species, 2 species of marine mammals, more than 80 species of hard corals, and over 60 species of soft corals and gorgonians. The total number of marine species in Hong Kong is about a quarter of that in China. Hong Kong waters are therefore ecologically important. The waters around the East Lantau are the habitat of many marine life, such as finless porpoises, starfish, seahorses, sea dragons, sea pens Pennatulacea, gorgonians, soft coral Dendronephthya spp., sun coral etc. The islands nearby are the breeding ground of the white-bellied sea eagles a national first-class protected species (according to China’s environmental protection laws). The habitats of these marine species need protection and management so that the species can thrive in Hong Kong waters.
Hong Kong’s marine ecosystems are abundant and diverse. Hong Kong is situated in the Pearl River Delta and the south coast of China. It comprises more than 200 outlying islands with a total 1,649 square kilometers of marine area – estuarine at the west, oceanic water at the east. Hong Kong’s diverse marine ecosystems are not only the habitats of many different marine species but also provide a great variety of ecological services, including climate regulation, environmental education, recreation, and food supply. Most importantly, we urgently need a healthy marine environment to help combat climate crisis.
Our actions to conserve biodiversity are below international standard
In October this year, the signatories to the Biodiversity Convention will meet in Kunming, China, to review the progress of this multilateral treaty and to establish new conservation goals and timetables. In marine conservation aspect, the target of designating at least 30% of marine area as marine protected areas by 2030 is very likely to be adopted to further safeguard marine biodiversity.
In response to the Biodiversity Convention, the Environmental Bureau formulated Hong Kong Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2016-2021 (“BSAP”). It highlights specific actions for conserving marine ecosystems, however, without targets and timetables. Based on the Advisory Council on the Environment (ACE) meeting on 11th May 2021 regarding the progress of implementation on BSAP, multiple actions are behind schedule.
Less than 3% of Hong Kong waters are currently under protection. Even if the proposed marine parks are being set up and all actions under BSAP are taken by the end of 2021, it is still not possible for Hong Kong to achieve the target of protecting 10% marine area by last year under the Biodiversity Convention and to fulfill the commitment to China and the international community. Hong Kong needs to expand the current marine protected areas by at least 10 times so as to achieve the international goal of conserving marine ecosystems and biodiversity.
Reviewing Hong Kong’s marine spatial planning is crucial
UNESCO proposed marine spatial planning in 2006. Still, Hong Kong lacks comprehensive plan and systemic management. This leads to heavy exploitation of ecological important marine areas such as the coastal area and waters around Lantau Island by human activity, and causes conflicts between development and conservation. There are multiple issues under Hong Kong’s existing marine spatial planning:
- The government lags behind schedule for designating marine protected areas. Multiple sites with significant ecological value are still not protected under the rule of law.
- Environmental impact assessment and consultation are conducted based on specific development projects. The government is passive in marine spatial planning.
- “Destroy first, compensate later” approaches are often adopted in reclamation projects. Marine protected area is designated after the completion of project. This is not an effective measure to mitigate the negative impacts on the marine environment.
Several citizen environmental groups supported “Protect the Ocean! No Reclamation!”, a marine spatial planning campaign last year, proposed rezoning the waters around Kau Yi Chau and Siu Kau Yi Chau, Lantau into a marine protected area. The planning application was however rejected by the Town Planning Board due to a reclamation plan. From a global perspective, about 70 countries / regions have started or completed marine spatial planning, including China, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway and Australia. Some of them have reached the target of designating 10% Marine Protected Area under the Biodiversity Convention.
Hong Kong needs to catch up
We urge the Hong Kong government to cease reclamation projects that cause irreversible impacts on the coastline and marine waters and expedite the implementation of measures that the Biodiversity Convention proposed. We proposed the following actions:
- To protect at least 10% of Hong Kong’s water, including bringing them under Cap. 476 Marine Parks Ordinance.
- To set up a timetable for designating 30% Hong Kong’s waters as marine protected area by 2030.
- To cease all development projects that deploy “Destroy first, compensate later” approaches.
- To collaborate with marine users and local groups to work on marine spatial planning.
Through these actions, local biodiversity and ecologically important marine ecosystems can be protected in achieving a sustainable ocean. Over-exploitation of marine resources and conflicts in the access of marine waters can be prevented. These actions are pathways to the ultimate goal – a better balance of conservation, economy and social needs.
 China – National Targets. Convention on Biological Diversity. https://www.cbd.int/countries/targets/?country=cn
 Ocean impacts of climate change. IUCN World Conservation Congress Marseille. https://www.iucncongress2020.org/motion/037/61474