“SOS Save Our Seas”
A Nautical Institute presentation
20th June 2007 - at the Royal Yacht Club
Speaker : Mr. Markus Shaw
Chairman of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, Hong Kong,
Thirty members and guests gathered at The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club on June 20 th to hear Markus Shaw, Chairman of the Worldwide Fund For Nature Hong Kong, speak on their SOS Campaign.
Mr. Shaw began by pointing out that fishing is in crisis around the world. In the 1950s, seventy per cent of the worlds fisheries were classified as ‘undeveloped’ but by the year 2000, sixty per cent were ‘fully exploited’ and twenty per cent were ‘collapsed’.
Overfishing dates from the 1960s, when there was a massive increase in catches due to improvements in fishing technology. At the present rate of decline, commercial fisheries will be exhausted by 2048.
Hong Kong’s waters are unique because nowhere else on Earth has such diversity of marine habitat in such a small area.
We boast 85 different species of coral (more than the entire Caribbean), 1000 different species of fish, three of the world’s four species of Horseshoe Crab, breeding sites for turtles, and rare species such as the finless porpoise and the Chinese white dolphin. Such richness and diversity is worth restoring to a healthy condition and preserving for future generations, but at present it is in crisis due to dredging, reclamation, pollution and over fishing.
One of the most deadly threats is posed by inshore trawlers. One pass of such a trawler can destroy 20 per cent of life on the seabed, and the practice is banned in most countries, including China. However, it is not banned in Hong Kong, and it is estimated that each square metre of Tolo Harbour is trawled on average three times per day. The average weight of each fish caught in Hong Kong waters is just 10 grams - useless for feeding the population, so most of the catch is used to produce fish food for the local fish farms.
The WWF campaign is calling on the HKSAR government to ban inshore trawling and create reserves which will be designated as no-take zones. At present, fishing is not prohibited in our Marine Reserves, but studies show that no-take zones allow fish to grow to maturity within their boundaries and then spread out to improve the fishing in surrounding areas. One expert, Daniel Pauly, has calculated that 20 per cent of the world’s sea areas must be designated as no-take zones if fisheries are to recover, but Hong Kong’s marine reserves cover only 0.016 per cent of our waters.
WWF Hong Kong have proposed making Port Shelter and Tolo Harbour no-take zones. They claim that, although this is only 9.8 per cent of our water area, it will demonstrate to local fisherman and to government the benefits of such a scheme. Furthermore, it would turn these areas into ‘underwater wonderlands’ which would attract divers and others, and create jobs for the fishermen affected by the loss of fishing areas. Markus Shaw is calling for a new economic model based upon recreation and tourism, and is actively promoting his ideas to government and the local fishing community.
WWF Hong Kong have even organised seminars where local fishermen are invited to meet fishermen from New Zealand and the Philippines who can describe to them the success of such schemes in those countries. Studies show that a high level of investment would be required, but such investment would produce very high rates of return.
Whilst Hong Kong has been slow to act on these ideas, some other countries have taken significant steps. President Bush recently declared an area in the western Hawaiian Islands - the size of Germany - a marine reserve, and Australia protects one third of the Great Barrier Reef. Fiji will shortly declare twenty per cent of their waters as no-take zones.
Some companies are also assisting to redress the balance, with Walmart recently agreeing to sell seafood only if it is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Mr. Shaw concluded by pointing out that the world’s population has tripled since 1930, and feeding such vast numbers is only sustainable if our resources are managed in new and imaginative ways.
The presentation was followed by a lively question and answer session which indicated that the talk had generated a great deal of interest and concern. At the end of the evening, Branch Chairman John Wilson presented Mr. Shaw with a Nautical Institute plaque to thank him for taking the time to give us such a thought-provoking paper.