for National Geographic News
In an effort to protect its rare white dolphins, the government of China plans to create a dolphin reserve in the Pearl River Delta.
The official Xinhua News Agency said construction of the sanctuary, to measure 178 square miles (460 square kilometers), will begin later this year near Qi'ao Island. Initial efforts will focus on an emergency dolphin rescue center.
Lindsay Porter, a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Hong Kong marine mammal biologist who has studied white dolphins since 1993, said water pollution poses the greatest threat to the white dolphins, rare mammals unique to China.
"They live in one of the busiest, fastest developing deltas within Asia," Porter said. "A lot of the industrial and domestic development that occurs there has uncontrolled or unmitigated pollution coming into those waters."
Premature deaths of white dolphins, which normally live up to 40 years, have been tied to pollutants, boating collisions, and even cholera.
Only about 2,000 of the dolphins, also known as pink dolphins, are thought to inhabit the South China Sea. About half of these dolphins live in the Pearl River Estuary.
The Xinhua News Agency quoted Chen Jialin, administrator of the Chinese White Dolphin Natural Reserve.
"Pollutants discharged into the water by paper mills, chemical plants, and plating factories along the river [have] been destroying the dolphins' habitat," he said, "and as a result, 19 dolphins have died over the past three years."
Porter, of WWF Hong Kong, said word of the new dolphin reserve suggests the Chinese government aims to upgrade the marine mammals' protected status in the Pearl River Delta.
"There already exists a marine protected area designated in the Pearl River Estuary, which comes under jurisdiction of mainland authorities," she said.
"I believe this area is about to be upgraded to national status, which gives mainland authorities more resources and power to develop and enforce regulations."
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