Nav: Home

Hong Kong hosts more than a quarter of all marine species recorded in China

January 05, 2017

Hong Kong is best known as a bustling harbour, a financial centre and a shoppers' paradise, with a dense burgeoning population of seven million impacting its natural environment. Yet, away from the skyscrapers and the pressures of anthropogenic influence, Hong Kong has a record of 5,943 marine species according to a recent review by a research group led by Professor Gray A. Williams of The Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) and School of Biological Sciences, the University of Hong Kong (HKU). This 1.5-year study funded by the Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF) was published in Biodiversity and Conservation recently.

This first comprehensive review of local marine biodiversity since the beginning of the history of marine science in Hong Kong in 1940s shows that with only about 1,651 km2 marine area (~0.03% of China's total), Hong Kong already accounts for ~26% of the total marine species recorded in China. Hong Kong's marine biodiversity is comparable to many other regions even though its marine area is hundreds to thousands of times smaller than those regions.

"We knew Hong Kong was incredibly rich in its marine species but were still very impressed when we figured out the numbers from the study," said project manager Dr Terence Ng Pun-tung from HKU SWIMS. The abundance of the territory's marine biodiversity can be illustrated by simple comparisons ? Hong Kong has more hard corals than the entire Caribbean Sea and it also hosts more mangrove tree species than the whole of East Africa. Hong Kong also contributes to a considerable amount (>30%) of the species records for several groups of organisms such as polychaetes, fish, cephalopods and amphipods in the South China Sea.

These findings reaffirm Hong Kong's location within the fringes of the world's marine biodiversity hotspot (i.e. the Western Indo-Pacific region). Hong Kong lies in a transitional geographic position between the temperate and tropical regions, and the mixing of the three ocean currents (Kuroshio, Taiwan and Hainan currents) and suitable climates ('temperate-like' winter and 'tropical-like' summer), bring together both tropical and temperate species to live in Hong Kong. Apart from that, the influence of complex geology, proximity to the Pearl River (creating an estuarine environment in western waters), a relatively long coastline (1,189 km) and diverse marine ecological habitats suitable for different species to live and interact all contributed to mould the highly diverse marine life in Hong Kong.

The research team also expected highly diverse marine species in regions near Hong Kong, such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, but biodiversity information in these regions are largely limited. Given the paucity of knowledge on the marine biodiversity in the Southeast Asia, this study contributes to this knowledge gap and marks a milestone for both Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

"Understanding the number of species we have in our marine environment is a basic need if we are to protect and conserve our biodiversity. This is vital in today's rapidly changing world, not just here in Hong Kong, but especially in Southeast Asia which holds the world's most diverse marine habitats. SWIMS is playing a major role in trying to measure and conserve these important resources, both within Hong Kong but also, together with its regional collaborators, in Southeast Asia." said Professor Gray A. Williams, the leader of this study and the Director of HKU SWIMS.

The enormous array of marine life in Hong Kong, however, has yet to receive its desirable level of conservation as currently only less than 2% of Hong Kong's marine area is protected as marine parks or reserve as compared with approximately 40 % of our terrestrial area. The Government has committed to designate more new marine parks in the coming years. The Brothers Marine Park in the northern Lantau waters will be soon launched soon, which will bring Hong Kong's total protected marine area to more than 2%. The research team welcomed the initiative of the new marine park while also urging the Hong Kong government to move towards the global target of at least 10% marine protected area by the year 2020 under United Nation's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as China is one of the 196 signatories of the Convention and the Convention was extended to Hong Kong in 2011.

Hong Kong launched Asia's first Register of Marine Species

To establish a platform for the international scientific community to access the marine species in Hong Kong for conservation, research and education purposes, the research team, in collaboration with international experts, has also launched the Hong Kong Register of Marine Species (HKRMS) (see http://www.marinespecies.org/hkrms/) under the umbrella of the largest global marine biodiversity database, the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS). Hong Kong is one of only ten regions in the world that has such a regional species database, and was the first in Asia. An editorial team consisting of local experts on different taxonomic groups led by Dr Terence Ng has been established to curate and keep the database up-to-date. The HKRMS, therefore, serves as a knowledge exchange platform to showcase the enormous marine biodiversity in Hong Kong.

What's next?

Hong Kong classes itself as a world city but unlike Singapore and many western countries, it lacks a central repository for its catalogue of marine species, such as a natural history museum or biodiversity centre that collates, manages and analyses and disseminates data of local species. It is, therefore, difficult to confirm the validity of past records and keep track of the status (i.e. changes in species number and distribution under different anthropogenic impacts such as coastal development, pollution, climate change etc.) of our marine resources. The recent launch of Hong Kong's first Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP) under the CBD, however, provides a unique opportunity for Hong Kong to 'keep up the pace'.

In light of the BSAP and the future development of SWIMS, the current marine species database will be further developed into an information system to facilitate the sharing of information on marine biodiversity to a wider range of stakeholders, for education, research and conservation purposes.

A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) welcomed this initiative: "Under the recently launched BSAP, AFCD will explore opportunities to collaborate with local institutions to establish biodiversity centres to disseminate scientific information for the wider community. The Government will work together with external experts to improve sharing of knowledge of biodiversity".

The SWIMS research team hopes that this initiative will help conserve the incredibly rich, but largely unrecognized, marine diversity of Hong Kong. It also translates into a better protection of our heritage as Hong Kong originated as a fishing village, and we heavily rely on our marine species and habitats for many economic, recreational and aesthetic benefits.
-end-
The abstract of the article "Hong Kong's rich marine biodiversity: the unseen wealth of South China's megalopolis" published in Biodiversity and Conservation is available at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10531-016-1224-5

The University of Hong Kong

Related Biodiversity Articles:

About the distribution of biodiversity on our planet
Large open-water fish predators such as tunas or sharks hunt for prey more intensively in the temperate zone than near the equator.
Bargain-hunting for biodiversity
The best bargains for conserving some of the world's most vulnerable salamanders and other vertebrate species can be found in Central Texas and the Appalachians, according to new conservation tools developed at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Researchers solve old biodiversity mystery
The underlying cause for why some regions are home to an extremely large number of animal species may be found in the evolutionary adaptations of species, and how they limit their dispersion to specific natural habitats.
Biodiversity offsetting is contentious -- here's an alternative
A new approach to compensate for the impact of development may be an effective alternative to biodiversity offsetting -- and help nations achieve international biodiversity targets.
Biodiversity yields financial returns
Farmers could increase their revenues by increasing biodiversity on their land.
Biodiversity and wind energy
The location and operation of wind energy plants are often in direct conflict with the legal protection of endangered species.
Mapping global biodiversity change
A new study, published in Science, which focuses on mapping biodiversity change in marine and land ecosystems shows that loss of biodiversity is most prevalent in the tropic, with changes in marine ecosystems outpacing those on land.
What if we paid countries to protect biodiversity?
Researchers from Sweden, Germany, Brazil and the USA have developed a financial mechanism to support the protection of the world's natural heritage.
Grassland biodiversity is blowing in the wind
Temperate grasslands are the most endangered but least protected ecosystems on Earth.
The loss of biodiversity comes at a price
A University of Cordoba research team ran the numbers on the impact of forest fires on emblematic species using the fires in Spain's Doñana National Park and Segura mountains in 2017 as examples
More Biodiversity News and Biodiversity Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 3: Shared Immunity
More than a million people have caught Covid-19, and tens of thousands have died. But thousands more have survived and recovered. A week or so ago (aka, what feels like ten years in corona time) producer Molly Webster learned that many of those survivors possess a kind of superpower: antibodies trained to fight the virus. Not only that, they might be able to pass this power on to the people who are sick with corona, and still in the fight. Today we have the story of an experimental treatment that's popping up all over the country: convalescent plasma transfusion, a century-old procedure that some say may become one of our best weapons against this devastating, new disease.   If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.  To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.  To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.  And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.   If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. And lastly, Tatiana Prowell's tweet that tipped us off is here. This episode was reported by Molly Webster and produced by Pat Walters. Special thanks to Drs. Evan Bloch and Tim Byun, as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.