Chinese President Xi Jinping recently inaugurated the 34-mile long sea bridge that links Zhuhai to the semi-autonomous regions of Macau and Hong Kong. It has an undersea tunnel that allows ships to pass through the delta. Said to be the longest sea-crossing bridge in the world, the project has attracted huge criticism because of its role in slashing the white dolphin population in the region and its deplorable treatment of employees.
Threatening dolphin population
According to the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, the population of dolphins in the waters was reduced by more than 40 percent during construction of the bridge. While in 2012, 80 sightings of dolphins were reported, the number fell to just 47 by 2017. In areas close to the construction, like North Lantau Island, dolphins have literally disappeared.
Though the government is said to have implemented steps to avoid harming the dolphin population during construction, the measures eventually proved ineffective. “When you increase that underwater noise, you not only stop dolphins from being able to forage… we also stop them communicating with each other,” Lindsay Porter, a scientist at marine mammal research consultancy SMRU Hong Kong, said to Reuters. Dolphins were found to be displaying signs of distress because of the construction project.
Some of the creatures had skin lesions and infections as a result of being exposed to high noise levels. State media Xinhua made the entire matter a joke by saying that the dolphins were “dancing” during the inauguration of the bridge as if to congratulate it. In reality, the animals were just poking their heads up for air.
The government has promised to set up marine parks to protect the animals. However, environmental activists are doubtful whether such efforts will produce any results given that the Brothers Marine Park, established to provide a safe haven for the dolphins, has failed to bring the creatures back.
The bridge is also mired in controversy because of several worker injuries and deaths. “Some workers died after falling into the sea… It was later revealed that life jackets provided by the contractors were substandard… I hope everyone will remember that during construction, 20 workers were unfortunately sacrificed and more than 500 workers were injured,” Chan Kam-hong, chief executive of the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims, said to South China Morning Post.
The shortcomings in safety measures during construction are said to be responsible for the injuries and deaths. Though local laws stipulate a fine of US$64,000 from contractors who are responsible for such negligence, the heaviest fine imposed on irresponsible contractors so far has just been US$10,000. Local media even dubbed the project the “Bridge of Death.”
The project has also been surrounded by safety scandals. Last year, a lab technician was arrested for faking the test reports of concrete cubes used in the bridge. This has raised some serious concerns regarding the bridge’s safety.
And even though the Communist Party claims that the bridge would make travel between Hong Kong and the mainland easier, Hong Kong politician Claudia Mo has called it a “waste of money.” According to her, the Chinese government has constructed the bridge only to remind the people of Hong Kong that they are not independent, but “linked up to the motherland.”