Hong Kong's rising conservationists fight to save pink dolphins
A growing number of conservationists in ultra-urban Hong Kong are acting to save the city’s natural heritage, including a pink dolphin population that swims in the brackish waters to the north.
The triangle of busy, brackish water that separates Hong Kong from the industrial belt of southern China seems an unlikely place to look for rare wildlife. But every week conservationist Janet Walker brings tourists out among the tall ships and container terminals, the refineries and one of the world’s busiest airports, to get a glimpse of some unique creatures: bubblegum-pink dolphins.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Pink dolphins
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Few in Hong Kong knew of their existence here till the early 1990s when the government started reclaiming land in the heart of their habitat for the new airport. It was too late to halt that project, but environmentalists began to campaign to preserve the dolphins – a subspecies of the Indo-Pacific humpback – and their habitat in the face of the region's development juggernaut.
“Anywhere else in the world if you had pink dolphins in the backyard, the government would be making a lot of noise and preserving it,” says Ms. Walker, spokeswoman for Hong Kong Dolphinwatch. "But this is Hong Kong."
The effort to save the pink dolphins of the Pearl River Delta is in many ways representative of a broader battle over conservation in an island city used to extracting maximum gain from its meager real estate.
Residents of a former British colony long identified with pure capitalism are increasingly asserting a claim to its more intangible assets – a unique natural and urban heritage.
In the past few years, civic groups have stopped several massive reclamation projects, campaigned to preserve old street markets, and just last month, successfully lobbied to halt redevelopment of a strip of tenements from the 1950s known as tong lau in the Central district.
“Officials in senior positions today had their idea of development shaped in the 1970s, when building hardware was what defined Hong Kong and their careers,” says Christine Loh, a former legislator and a founder of the Society for the Protection of the Harbour. “Today, it’s about the software, and they don't get it…. People want a better city to live in from every point of view – politics, education, health, and environment, and even social justice.”
Calls for preservation build
The conservation movement here stems from the civic activism that took root in the ferment of the run-up to 1997, the year Britain returned Hong Kong to China, and it has since gathered strength.