Giant grouper bites morning swimmer at Pok Fu Lam

Coconuts Hong Kong provides this translation of an Apple Daily item with amusing video (in Cantonese) today:

“A regular morning swimmer at the beach across from Pok Fu Lam’s Wah Kwai Estate was chased after and bitten by a giant grouper.

The morning swimmer, a 70-year-old retired chef surnamed Cheng, said he felt a sharp pain on his thigh, when he noticed a grouper about two-feet long swimming around him.

When he got out of the water he found a six-inch-wide wound cut on his leg, worried about a bacterial infection he went to the hospital for treatment.

An expert told the Apple Daily that the groupers might have escaped from a fishery or may have been set free by environmental activists. The expert says that when groupers get hungry they would really bite humans and these groupers can get as big as nine-feet-long.”

Source: Coconuts Hong Kong, 30/4/2014

Hong Kong – San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival 2014

The 3rd Annual HK-SF Int’l Ocean Film Festival will have a warm-up event on April 29th at iSquare in Tsim Sha Tsui, with the main events to be held from May 6th – May 11th. Among several films shown will be the film Blackfish about Orcas in captivity, as well as a 3 min short about the beauty of Hoi Ha Wan where one of HK’s marine parks is.

Film List & Summary here

The long-spines urchin (Diadema setosum)

When I was a boy snorkelling off beaches one of the sights I best remember and one of the potential hazards was the long-spined sea – Diadema setosum. Its quite a beautiful creature with black or brown-banded spines that are extremely long and narrow. They are also hollow and contain a mild venom which -despite being painful – does not pose a serious threat to humans. And if you have ever stepped on one you’ll know the spines are fairly brittle so getting them out is tricky!

They have a black skeleton shaped like a squashed ball that houses all the organs which is called a ‘test’ and essentially that’s the body of the urchin. Get close enough and you will see a bright, orange ring around the urchin’s “anus” (which is on the top of the urchin as you look at the seabed) and some bluish spots surrounding the orange ring. Similar blue spots are arranged in linear fashion along its test.

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Adult urchins weigh 35 – 80 grams and measure no more than 7 cm in test diameter and around 4 cm in height. But the spines make them look much bigger!

It is commonly found on coral reefs, but also on sand flats and in seagrass beds. Its range stretches throughout the Indo-Pacific from the Red Sea and then eastward to the Australian coast, then as far north as Japan and as far south as the southern tip of the African east coast. Interestingly it has been introduced into other localities not within its natural range. For example in 2006, two living specimens were found in waters off Turkey.
In Hong Kong it’s very common and lives all across the coast of Eastern Hong Kong as well as the southern side of Lamma and probably anywhere where there is coral or rocks with reef-type algae. Check out Hong Kong Reef Check for more info on its distribution in Hong Kong waters.

During the day they hide in a sheltered crevice and at night they leave it to graze on a variety of algal species in an area about 1 m around their crevice. Very hungry individuals may become carnivorous. They can also bite bits of the rocks and corals producing coral sand as debris.

In Hong Kong they probably spawn in summer when the water temperature reaches at least 25 degrees. But other cues, such as a full moon may affect the spawning, too. They need to live in high densities to reproduce because males and females stimulate the opposite sex to spawn by releasing chemicals into the water and that’s only possible when there lots of them in one place. Females release 10-20 million eggs at each spawning, hoping that at least a few of them will get fertilised by the sperm the males release into the water at the same time. The fertilised eggs develop into larvae that will live and drift for 40-50 days as plankton before settling on the seabed. When the larvae finally settle on a naked rock somewhere, they metamorphose – that is transform into real sea urchins. It’s a bit like caterpillars and butterflies or tadpoles and frogs. Incidentally, almost all marine invertebrates go through such a metamorphosis. Frequently they live below another urchins spines to protect themselves from enemies.

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In Hong Kong the long-spines sea urchin has been suspected of causing damage to reefs (along with some other invertebrates), so that the government has at least once undertaken manual removal of these urchins from the Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park. There is ssome research into this topic going on at the Swire Institute of Marine Sciences (HKU).

Hong Kong’s fish farms in the sky

Under eerie blue lights designed to simulate the ocean depths, hundreds of fish swim serenely through the bubbling waters of their circular tanks, 15 floors up in the sky.

There are 11 plastic tanks in total, holding a combined 80,000 litres of salt water.

They are full of grouper, a white-fleshed fish, which are all destined to end up on the plates of restaurant-goers across Hong Kong.

This is the scene at Oceanethix, one of the numerous so-called “vertical fish farms” in the special administrative region, which have become a key fixture of its supply chain.

For while most fish farms around the world are at sea, or at least, land level, in Hong Kong it is more often a necessity to put them many floors up in tall buildings.

This is because as one of the most densely populated places in the world, there is simply very little spare space. So fish farms have to fit in where they can.

For the small firms that dominate the industry, it is worth the effort, as Hong Kong has an insatiable appetite for fish and seafood. It consumes more than 70kg (11 stone) per capita every year, 10 times more than in the US.

“We’re way above the hustle and bustle,” jokes Lloyd Moskalik, managing director of Oceanethix, which is based in Hong Kong’s New Territories. “If you like, this is rooftop farming on steroids.”

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His business, which employs six people in Hong Kong, buys in the groupers as baby fish, or fingerlings. They then take between 10 and 13 months to get up to market weight.

Oceanethix sells about two tonnes of groupers to fish wholesalers each week, and Mr Moskalik says he can get as much as 776 Hong Kong dollars ($100; £60) per kilogram.

As demand for farmed fish has soared in the region, wholesale prices have risen at a rate of between 10% and 15% per annum for the past five years.

Oceanethix also sells its water-recycling systems to other companies across Asia setting up similar fish farms in the sky.

“We’ve been selected by the Korean government as part of an ambitious plan to establish vertical farms in multi-story buildings… in Seoul,” says Mr Moskalik.

The Singapore government has also bought a country licence for Oceanethix’s water-recycling systems, and the company has its own sister facility in Shanghai.

Source: BBC 2/4/2014 (read the full article here)

Protection urged for home of rare fish

The possible home of the endangered and highly priced Hong Kong grouper in Sai Kung should be turned into a marine park to better conserve the species of fish, green groups say.

The call came after the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department took the area in Port Shelter off the priority list for designation as a marine park, saying further discussions were needed with affected parties.

But Green Power and the Eco-Education and Resources Centre say the Port Shelter waters are ecologically important, as half the 270 coral fish species ever spotted in Hong Kong were found there. In particular, the site in question – 359 hectares off the University of Science and Technology campus on the Clear Water Bay peninsula – could be one of the last remaining habitats for the rare local grouper.

The department said there was no pressing need to designate the waters as marine park as they found no apparent threats to the marine ecosystem.

A spokeswoman said the department had no recent record of the rare grouper. “We are not aware of any record of spawning activities of the Hong Kong grouper in Port Shelter in recent years,” she said.

The grouper is classified as a globally endangered species, a result of suspected overfishing.

“The fish used to be popular wedding banquet fare, given its auspicious name and red colours,” Dr Michelle Cheung Ma-shan, science manager of the eco-education centre, said of the local variety. “It may be for that reason the species was heavily consumed and fished.”

The expensive fish was almost absent from the market now, she said, adding that a palm-sized one could fetch up to HK$500.

Previous attempts to farm the fish have proved commercially unsuccessful. Despite the population decline, the species – which can also be found in waters off the southern Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Japan and Korea – is still occasionally spotted in Port Shelter, she said.

“In the surveys we did in the past 10 years, we saw them no more than 10 times. The very last time was in 2012,” Cheung said.

These surveys also found eight other species new to the area including some that had apparently arrived on an ocean current from the Philippines.

Green Power research head Dr Cheng Luk-ki said the government should reconsider a proposal to designate the area as a marine park.

But even with Port Shelter designated, Cheng said, the city would still fall well short of targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity, which has applied to Hong Kong since 2011. The treaty recommends signatories set aside 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas as protected areas. Only 1.5 per cent of the sea area is designated as marine parks or special protected areas.

Source: SCMP 22/4/2014

One of my ongoing interests and topics of this blog is working my way through a 1960’s book of ‘common marine food fish’ and trying to get a updated 2014 view of the fish situation in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong grouper mentioned in the article above is also on my list, but is listed by the WWF Sustainable Seafood guide as ‘AVOID’ which I completely agree with. I will try and post an update to the HK grouper topic soon.

Compensation deal struck for clean-up of plastic pellets spilled in typhoon

Hong Kong has come to a financial settlement with an unidentified party over the cost of the clean-up of a massive spill of plastic pellets in the city’s waters during one of the most powerful typhoons to hit in recent years.

The Marine Department last night said the sum was “reasonable, realistic and acceptable”, but declined to reveal how much had been paid or who had paid it, citing what it described as “a usual confidentiality clause”.

In July 2012, seven containers fell overboard from cargo ship Yong Xin Jie 1 when Severe Typhoon Vicente hit the city. Six were loaded with 150 tonnes of plastic pellets produced by Sinopec’s petrochemical refinery in Hainan . They washed up on Hong Kong beaches, and environmentalists said at the time they could harm the marine ecology.

Government departments in cluding those responsible for food and environmental hygiene, leisure and cultural services, agriculture, fisheries and conservation and environmental protection, and the Marine Department, were involved in the clean-up.

“After active negotiations amongst the parties concerned, a settlement agreement was reached for a sum to be paid by the party concerned to the government to compensate [for] the costs it incurred in cleaning up the plastic pellets,” a Marine Department spokesman said.

He said that the government hoped to resolve the matter “in an amicable manner”, instead of going to court, to save costs and resources. Further details of the agreement could not be disclosed, he said, citing the confidentiality clause.

People braved the strong winds as Typhoon Vincente approached the city last year. Photo: David Wong
The spokesman said the agreement was signed by a department representative yesterday.

After the spill, Sinopec said it would take responsibility and set aside HK$10 million to help pay for the clean-up of the pellets.

It said it had bought 40 vacuum machines, 20 generators and 40 walkie-talkies for the purpose.

The then Marine Department chief, Francis Liu Hon-por, said the government would hold the owner of the Xiamen-registered vessel responsible.

Two months later, shipping company China Shipping Container Lines, which leased the vessel, said it had sent 500 staff, vehicles and speedboats to help with the clean-up, and arranged for divers to collect pellets.

Gary Stokes, from Sea Shepherd Hong Kong, which was the first to spot the pellets in local waters, said the agreement was fine if the payment covered the costs.

However, he said the government should release more information about it. “The clean-up could not have been done without the Hong Kong public,” he said.

Source: SCMP 9/4/2014

Toxic Algae and Man-Sized Jellyfish

Once a swampy backwater of fewer than 20 million people, the Pearl River Delta—the southern swath of mainland China above Hong Kong—now has three times that population. Tens of millions more humans in the Pearl River Delta means many more toilets a-flush, pumping a steady gush of human waste into the South China Sea.
Read the full story at Quartz