Mon, Jun 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Bombs, spear fishing devastating one of Asia's top sites for exotic marine life

DPA , HONG KONG

Exotic marine life at a prime diving site in the South China Sea is being wiped out by a lethal combination of fish bombs and spear-fishing, conservationists said yesterday.

Pedro Blanco, an isolated rock pinnacle 85km east of Hong Kong, was home to a colorful variety of exotic marine life including blue marlins, mantas, reef rays, octopus and turtles until fishing boats and spear-fishermen targeted it.

Dynamiting by fishermen and a succession of overnight spear-fishing expeditions have now decimated fish stocks to the point where the site is in danger of becoming worthless as a diving location, according to marine experts Charlie Frew and Andy Cornish.

The pair have appealed to the Guangdong government in southern China to try to stop Chinese fishing vessels using bombs around Pedro Blanco and are now writing to the Hong Kong Underwater Association about the number of spear-fishing expeditions.

Frew, who runs Hong Kong diving company Asiatic Marine and has dived at the site for seven years, said blast fishing had increased to levels where it was hardly worth diving at the 200m wide rock anymore.

"Diving there used to be out of this world -- now it's dismal," he said. "There is no selective fishing. They are going after everything. It's like the Wild West -- it's a free for all."

Andy Cornish, a marine biologist at the Swire Institute of Marine Science at the University of Hong Kong, said: "If you were to rate them on a scale of zero to 10 from low to huge impact, spear fishing would be a seven or an eight and blast fishing would be a 10."

A large increase in the number of Hong Kong people diving with a corresponding increase in the number of weekend expeditions by spear-fishing teams accelerated the decline of fish stocks at Pedro Blanco, Cornish said.

"I have dived in a lot of places in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean and Pedro Blanco was some of the best diving I have ever done," he said. "It's bathed in a current that passes the Philippines and had all sorts of tropical fish never recorded in Hong Kong waters."

Explaining why it was important to preserve marine life at the rock, he said: "There are at least 10,000 divers in Hong Kong and most of them spend their time diving overseas. Here is a fantastic place on their doorstep and it is being trashed."

He described the activities of spear fishermen as "underwater carnage" and said he had seen dive boats from Hong Kong taking up to 40 spear fishermen a day to the site.

"There has got to be a realization by the operators that it is totally unsustainable," Cornish said. "They are destroying things not just for everybody else but for themselves as well."

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