Hong Kong is not only a busy and lively city but also a hotspot of biodiversity, hosting an incredible variety of plants and animals. A reduction in biodiversity can lead to a substantial decrease in the services that ecosystems provide. But how does that affect us?
Ecosystems represent the complex relationships and interdependence of living organisms and their physical environment in a particular unit of space. They provide services to the world making our life possible; such as food and clean water, regulation of diseases and climate, pollination of crops as well as recreational, cultural and spiritual benefits.
Hong Kong has a variety of ecosystems that provide essential services to the community, in particular marine ecosystems. If we reduce habitat, food resources and protection for the organisms of an ecosystem, the entire system will stop working.
Think about horseshoe crabs which are native to Hong Kong. They are prehistoric animals who survived two mass extinctions and can give us precious information about our planet dating back millions of years. Yet, these ancient survivors are reducing in number in Hong Kong because of habitat destruction. Researchers at City University are breeding them to help the population increase and at the Marine Science Center at The Harbour School, we are also helping them with this mission.
We are currently hosting some of the juveniles horseshoe crabs in our Center’s tanks. We are nurturing them, waiting for them to grow healthier and stronger. With the help of our students, we will release them on the beach, returning these precious animals back to their ecosystem.
A few of our high school and middle school students are collaborating with Swire Institute of Marine Science, Hong Kong University to help scientists there with the global ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) program. This international initiative aims to quantify biodiversity and scientists placed artificial reefs at different depths all around Hong Kong. Students will help them to identify and count all the organisms that have colonised these reefs. Learning more about which organism lives where will be extremely helpful to understand more about Hong Kong biodiversity and how to develop measures to protect it.
Last month we took our students in Grades 7 and 8 on a field trip to Pak Nai in the New Territories, students were able to observe and collect data around an existing oyster farm that is under investigation for a potential oyster reef. The collected data will be used by a conservation organization in Hong Kong to convince the government to protect this ecosystem. Similar to corals and mangroves, oysters help stabilize shorelines, but they also do so much more. They are themselves a fishery providing protein to humans, they build upon one another creating a maze of hiding places for fish and other animals to live and have their babies. Oysters also sequester carbon from the water to produce their shell and are filter feeders; one oyster can filter up to 50 US gallons a day.
Hong Kong hosts an incredible variety of corals. With more than 90 species, Hong Kong is home to more coral species than the Caribbean. Local corals are very special as they are able to endure Hong Kong’s short winters and urban development, continuing to tough it out despite low sea water temperatures and high turbidity compared to tropical areas.
Coral health is important because these fragile ecosystems are widely regarded as the nurseries of the seas and oases of marine life. Although they cover less than 0.2 per cent of the ocean floor, they represent 30 percent of all marine diversity. Unfortunately fishery, urban development and anchoring are decreasing the abundance of these animals in Hong Kong and we need to keep track of their conditions over time in order to develop proper management measures.
Through research and experimentation conducted at the Marine Science Center, a THS high school student, Nikki Wong, is studying our local coral species and how an increase in temperature can impact growth. Temperature increase can lead to coral bleaching, a process in which corals lose their symbiotic algae becoming white. Nikki applied to become a member of the Youth Advisory Council, an international council in which young students around the world promote ocean conservation and help to develop World Oceans Day on June 8th, every year?. Nikki was selected as a finalist among thousand of students worldwide making us very proud and demonstrating her commitment to ocean conservation.
Last week, both the MSC and Black Dolphin teams conducted a Reef check dive. Reef check is an international program with the aim of collecting data of the same reef over time. In the future we can go back to the same diving site to see weather the reef has changed over time and what measures could be implemented to protect it.
Earlier this week, we heard from the world renowned nature broadcaster Sir David Attenborough inform world leaders at COP24 about the damage humans have inflicted on the natural world, and impressing the need for concerted and urgent action. In Hong Kong, our students will become adults in a city that will face ever greater environmental damage, from plastic pollution to land reclamation, leading to the loss of important ecosystems. It is thus vital that our students see and understand for themselves through research, experiments and expeditions conducted by the Marine Science Center how Hong Kong’s marine ecosystems are tied to the future of this city. We hope that by educating this generation, they will learn and protect their inheritance.