Reply To: Soko Islands will be harmed by ExxonMobil-CLP LNG terminal

Frequently shrouded by a polluted haze, two small islands on the edge of Hong Kong¡¦s territorial waters are at the epicentre of an unusual environmental debate.

At issue is the ecological cost Hong Kong is prepared to pay to clean up its filthy air.

Hong Kong environmentalists object to a project they believe would spoil an ecologically valuable area. The Sokos¡¦ surrounding waters are rich in marine life and a breeding ground for both rare pink dolphins and finless porpoises ¡V the only two marine mammals that manage to tolerate Hong Kong¡¦s dirty and heavily trafficked waterways.

¡§Having the [LNG] terminal and burning more gas instead of coal will improve Hong Kong¡¦s air pollution. But the central question is whether they need to step into this ecologically sensitive area,¡¨ says Hung Wing-tat, director of green group Conservancy Association.

The terminal, CLP also argues, will be built on already scarred land: the abandoned concrete platform where the detention centre that housed thousands of Vietnamese boat people once stood.

Conservationists, however, are not convinced. ¡§The effect on Hong Kong will be to destroy a part of our dwindling ecological heritage,¡¨ says the Living Islands Movement, a lobby group that argues CLP should instead source its gas from terminals across the border in Guangdong.

Making the project even more controversial is the need to lay a 38km underwater pipeline linking the terminal to CLP and ExxonMobil¡¦s 2,500MW Black Point power plant. Environmentalists contend the necessary dredging work will threaten the area¡¦s dolphins and porpoises, which breed each autumn and spring respectively.

¡§The pipes are at absolutely the worst place they could be for the dolphins,¡¨ says Janet Walker, a senior guide at Hong Kong DolphinWatch, which organises nature tours.

CLP¡¦s environmental permit bans dredging during the breeding seasons. Work would also have to halt temporarily every time a pink dolphin or porpoise was spied within 250m of a dredger, and the company has promised to establish two marine parks ¡V a plan the government proposed in 2002 but never implemented.

Gas terminal threatens HK dolphins