PINK DOLPHINS OF HONG KONG
The waters surrounding Hong Kong are its heart, both culturally and environmentally. As a brand based in Hong Kong, RURI is committed to protecting the environment of its homebase, especially the waters surrounding the island, and the inhabitants dwelling within. Such commitment is reflected in RURI’s careful production process.
CHINESE PINK DOLPHINS
Despite its name, the Chinese White Dolphin is often referred to as the pink dolphin due to the pink appearance of their skin. As calves the dolphins are grey in color, which fades as they grow into light grey and eventually into grey spots. These spots begin to disappear as they approach adulthood, and their skin becomes completely white, or as we perceive it, pink. The pink appearance of the dolphins’ skin is due to a network of blood vessels near the skin’s surface, most commonly believed to be for temperature regulation. These mammals can grow to a length of 3 metres in length, living off different species of anchovies and croakers who dwell in the Pearl River Estuary.
Two resident cetacean species can be found in the waters of Hong Kong: the Chinese White Dolphin, also known as the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin (Sousa chinensis), and the Indo-Pacific Finless Porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides). The Chinese White Dolphins in Hong Kong are part of a larger population in the Pearl River Estuary. In Hong Kong they can be found in the waters around North Lantau near Castle Peak, Lung Kwu Chau, Sha Chau Marine Park, Chek Lap Kok and Tai O, and South Lantau waters around Fan Lau and the Soko Islands.
THE IMPERILLED MASCOT
The Chinese White Dolphin has a special place in Hong Kong culture as it was made the Handover mascot of Hong Kong, when Britain returned the region to China in 1997.
Today, the Chinese White Dolphins in Hong Kong are facing extinction. Their numbers have plunged nearly 80%, from 188 in 2003 to just 32 in 2018. In certain areas in Hong Kong their population has completely vanished, such as in the waters around Northeast Lantau which have dropped to 0 since the beginnings of construction of the Hong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge in 2012.
Since Chinese White Dolphins live close to shore, they are highly susceptible to adverse effects of human activities. Despite its first-class protection status in China, their existence is threatened by habitat loss : ranging from recent coastal development, to water pollution and danger of collision with vessels such as high speed ferries and unregulated dolphin tour boats. Unfortunately the conservation of the region's mascot is often overlooked in favour of economic development.
Dr Samuel Hung and his team of researchers have been conducting surveys on Hong Kong's Chinese White Dolphins for around 20 years.
Daily line-transect surveys are carried out to study the dolphins' habitat usage and distribution. The researchers survey the water surface by boat, stopping the boat when a dolphin is spotted and recording the details of the observation.
Chinese White Dolphins in Hong Kong have lost over 2,000 hectares of habitat to coastal development and land reclamation over the past 20 years. One of the recent major coastal developments is the 50-kilometre-long Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the world’s longest cross-sea bridge. This year the construction of a third runway for the Hong Kong International Airport is underway which will involve 650 hectares of reclaimed land, 4 times as big as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge project, and will affect an additional 981 hectares of dolphin habitat during construction.
In the south and southwest waters of Lantau, the dolphins are threatened by high speed ferries that operate between Hong Kong and Macau at a frequency of 15 minutes day and night. As they communicate with each other and look for prey using echolocation in the murky brackish waters, the overlap of frequencies with high speed ferries significantly impairs their ability to hunt and navigate. Not only do high-speed ferries disrupt the dolphins’ daily lives, they also pose a danger of collision.
Dolphin tour operators on speedboats, also known locally as ‘walla-walla’, operate out of Tai O, a fishing village in the northwest of Lantau Island. Since the business is highly competitive, boats have a quick turnaround time, and have been observed approaching and leaving dolphins at high speeds. The exposed propeller on these boats can severely injure dolphins, and the daily disturbance could also cause dolphins to abandon their habitat.
The Pearl River Estuary is heavily polluted due to pollutants discharged from industrialised areas upstream and additional anthropogenic contamination. As dolphins are at the top of the food chain, their bodies are poisoned by highly concentrated organic pollutants and heavy metals accumulated in their prey. Furthermore, because dolphins breastfeed their young, the mother’s milk is often laced with deadly toxins poisoning the young calves. The calves’ underdeveloped immune systems are unable to cope, and as a result few calves make it to adulthood.
Fewer and fewer calves have been spotted over the past years, resulting in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to upgrade the Sousa chinensis to the status of ‘Vulnerable’ on the Red List of Threatened Species. This means the species faces ‘a high risk of extinction in the wild’ and they are ‘likely to become endangered unless circumstances that are threatening their survival and reproduction improve’. Over the next decade, Chinese White Dolphins in Hong Kong are set to lose even more habitat due to planned developments and land reclamation.
How does RURI help to protect the waters around Hong Kong and their inhabitants?
It is important for RURI to work with producers who have a strong focus on reducing their impact on the ocean. RURI’s partners recycle and clean water during the production process, ensuring that heavy metals, colors and other harmful substances are removed from the water before it is returned to the ocean, therefore reducing the impact on marine life. RURI also works with suppliers who use recycled plastic to create fabric, which RURI has used in their Mason Skirt and Gillian Cardigan. RURI is focused on protecting the environment in Hong Kong and preserving the habitats and species native to the place they call home.
All photos by Daphne Wong. Thanks to Wildlife Avengers.
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