About 150 dolphins are believed to live in the brackish waters off Hong Kong, especially around Lan Tau Island. Born gray or black like most dolphins, they soon acquire a shocking-pink hue—making them a fitting symbol for a society in transition. That's one reason Hong Kong chose the pink dolphin as the mascot for its 1997 return to Chinese rule.
Hong Kong environmentalists, however, are concerned that their city's mascot is dying off. There's no firm proof of this, but the circumstantial evidence is grim. Pollution—including oil spills, sewage, and DDT runoff from the mainland—is affecting the dolphins' food supply; they've been caught in fishing nets; high-speed ferries and other noisy boats hinder their ability to communicate. Bill Leverett, who runs dolphin-watching boat trips in the area (contact Hong Kong DolphinWatch, www.hkdolphinwatch.com), points to land reclamation projects that reduce habitat: Lan Tau, once mostly wilderness, is now home to Chek Lap Kok airport, built largely on landfill, and Tung Chung New Town, slated to house 320,000 people. Construction of a Disney theme park will also mean massive dredging.
In response to public pressure, the government has set up a 4.6-square-mile marine sanctuary for the dolphins, with treated water and artificial reefs to enhance feeding opportunities. But dolphin advocates worry that it's not enough. "I just can't see how they'll survive if we keep taking more habitat from them, keep putting more pollutants in the water," laments Lindsay Porter, a dolphin conservation officer at the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong (www.wwf.org.hk). "I'm just stunned that they're still here."