WWF-Hong Kong has called on the government to designate a dolphin conservation area in the western and southern Lantau waters by 2024, in an emergency action plan to save the Chinese white dolphin.
The conservation group said the plan is the last bid to save the species, as their numbers in the Pearl River Delta have plunged 80 percent in the past 15 years, with only around 2,000 remaining.
"The government needs to fulfill Hong Kong's obligation under the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as its own commitments for dolphins under the city's Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan," Doris Woo Ka-yi, a WWF-Hong Kong conservation officer said.
The emergency action plan is designed to give the dolphins a chance to stabilize and recover.
"Dolphin populations grow slowly, making them vulnerable to minor environmental changes," Woo said. "They only start breeding after nine years old [and only] carry a baby every three years or more."
Chinese white dolphins are listed as vulnerable on the Red List of Threatened Species and are a grade one national key protected species in China.
Its decreasing numbers have been caused by major threats such as habitat loss and degradation, underwater noise disturbance, marine traffic and vessel strikes, and overfishing.
However, existing marine parks and nature reserves are not effective enough to mitigate human disturbances, as they only regulate destructive and unsustainable fishing, vessel mooring and anchoring, and high-speed vessel operations.
The plan recommends measures to diminish threats in core and buffer areas covering key dolphin habitats, including the Lantau Dolphin Conservation Management Area.
"The government should prioritize this area and implement an adaptive management plan with immediate effect," Woo said, adding that the area should be managed to become a no-take and no-development zone.
"The Chinese white dolphin is a unique and shared heritage of Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong. It would be a global tragedy to lose this iconic creature from the future of the Greater Bay Area," WWF-Hong Kong's head of oceans conservation Laurence McCook said. "Governments, businesses and people of the delta region should seize this last chance to save our Chinese white dolphins."