2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Taipo Whale Identified as Recently Discovered Omura’s Whale

A dead ten-metre whale that washed up near Tai Po in March has been identified as an Omura’s Whale specimen (also known as dwarf fin whale), a species that science knows very little about, reports Apple Daily.
In fact, until this discovery, only nine whales have been genetically confirmed to be of the Omura’s Whale species, which was discovered only in 2003.
Over the past nine months, researchers at CityU have been preparing the whale’s bones to be put on display on their campus. But due to the size of the carcass – it weighed 25 tons when it was first found – the process is still ongoing.
The backbreaking work includes soaking the bones for months and boiling them over 20 times.
CityU is planning on displaying the entire five-ton skeleton in front of its library.

Source: Apple Daily via Coconuts HK 23/12/2014

Featured image: Ocean Park Conservation Fund

Off-topic: Sustainability in Fashion: Screw fish stocks, let’s make money!

Unrelated to anything Hong Kong I came across and incredibly stupid backfiring of a ethical clothing today.
The fashion company I work for was forced by some larger customers to become certified by the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) based in Belgium. This organisation is supposed to ensure that the products produced by certified brands did not cause human slavery, child labour or unsafe working practices in the manufacturing process. Apart from paying a large sum of money to become a member of BSCI (EUR 9,000+ or USD 11,250) you also have to first join the “Free Trade Association” a body that lobbies for reduction in trade tariffs and for free trade between countries. What has all this to do with marine life? Recently the EU has been considering withdrawing the GSP+ (Generalised System of Preferences) status of the Philippines. “The “GSP+”enhanced preferences means full removal of tariffs [on certain predefined products]. These are granted to countries which ratify and implement international conventions relating to human and labour rights, environment and good governance.” (EC website)

In other words the EU has been reviewing human and labour rights as well as environment and good governance in the Philippines to determine if the benefit of freer trade should be extended to the Philippines.

Here is what it found under the heading ‘Sustainable Fisheries’:

Concerns about sustainable fishing have been raised for the Philippines. Rare Conservation found
that overfishing is still the main threat to the marine ecosystem, considering that less than 5% of the Philippine coral reefs remain in pristine health and that there are fishing grounds that contain only 10% of the fish stock present 50 years ago. For the tuna sector sustainability assurances are fundamental, therefore EUROTHON is concerned about these unsustainable practices in the Philippine fishing industry. We believe it indispensable to take into account sustainability concerns when considering a GSP+ status for the Philippines. Conventions related to the environment and to governance principles should be ratified and implemented effectively.

However the FTA mentioned above lobbied hard against this withdrawal of GSP+ as a punishment for unsustainable fishing practices and help defeat this measure! Sustainability or fishing was never mentioned in the email FTA’s newsletter to its members:

We urged the MEPs concerned to reject the motion and therefore allow the Philippines to be granted GSP+ status. This morning the vote on the motion returned 12 in favour, 26 opposed and 3 abstentions. Therefore, we can claim success in this regard.

In other words by joining BSCI to show consumers how responsible and fair we are we have funded an organisation that effectively tells Members of the European Parliament:

“Screw fish stocks in the Philippines, we want to make more money with more free trade!”

According to BSCI’s own website:
“Following dramatic growth of BSCI over the years, in 2011 FTA made the decision to clearly include sustainability as one of its pillars and therefore adopted a stronger organisational structure to further develop the growth of the association and maintain an excellent service to its members.”

Perhaps by ‘sustainability’ they meant ‘short-term profit’… That’s what the truth seems to be. A healthy dose of scepticism is warranted for any ethical, sustainability or fair trade certification or membership scheme!

Dynamite Fishing in Daya Bay

Fishermen in Daya Bay – home to Hong Kong’s closest nuclear power plant – face an official crackdown on their use of home-made bombs to blast fish out of the water.

So-called ‘blast fishing’ is outlawed in many countries because of the destructive and unpredictable effect it can have on the marine ecosystems that support fish stocks.

But the practise is nonetheless thriving in Daya Bay, less than 100km northeast of Hong Kong. Visitors there can even pay to go out with the fishermen and throw a few bombs in the water themselves.

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The pictures below were published by the Daily Mail in an area described by travel guides as ‘an unpolluted, quiet paradise for sea-lovers’ and show fishermen hurling explosives into the water to stun or kill fish.

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Their target are yellow croakers (Larimichthys polyactis) that they head out to catch every November. But the explosions also kill other sea life in the area and severely damage the underlying habitat.

Underwater shockwaves from the explosions stun fish and rupture their swim bladders – the tiny gas-filled organs that help fish to control their buoyancy. The rupturing causes an abrupt loss of buoyancy, so while a small number of fish float to the surface, many more sink to the sea floor, where they join any other marine organisms indiscriminately killed by the blasts.

But this irresponsible practise has now apparently become a tourist attraction. An angler who unwittingly signed up to a trip in Dayawan Bay, said:

We saw an advert promising ‘fishing action. We’d been out for about 30 minutes when the men told us they were going to feed the fishes. They were laughing and stuffing the bottles with powder and what looked like stones. They then threw them overboard and just seconds later there was a huge series of explosions.
And then all these dead fish appeared floating on the surface which the fishermen hauled in with nets. I was absolutely disgusted and shocked beyond belief.

A spokesman for the Chinese Fishery Bureau said: ‘These fishermen make most of their money from taking tourists out to watch them at work. We are attempting to crack down on it though.’

Source: MailOnline, 1/12/2014

Noctiluca scintillans – Jekyll & Hyde of Plankton

This week red tides have been reported all across the western half of Hong Kong including Discovery Bay, Peng Chau, Mui Wo, East and West Lamma Channel. The culprit was once again the plankton species Noctiluca scintillans – neither fully plant not fully animal. It’s a single-called organism from a group called dinoflagellates. They consist of a bubble-shaped cell with two whips called flagella – that propel them through the water.

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Though Noctiluca eats other plankton it doesn’t always kill what it eats: sometimes it leaves algae intact and stores it in little bubbles in its body (cell) where the algae make sugars that leak out and feed Noctiluca while the waste produced by Noctiluca feeds the photosynthesis of the preyed on algae – a process known to most as symbiosis and also found in tropical corals. However Noctiluca can also just eat the algae. Why and how it decides to eat or farm the algae is not really clear.
Noctiluca is a well known and non-toxic local red tide species and its occurrence is not necessarily a sign of pollution, but entirely natural. What is perhaps not natural is the size of the bloom, though. This could well point to agricultural fertiliser run-off and sewage effluent particularly from the fast growing population of the Pearl River Delta (PRD).

Images of the recent red tide at Discovery Bay North:
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Noctiluca has however a redeeming feature – bioluminescence! That beautiful sea sparkle of iridescent blue that night divers in the tropics often sea or beach goers see in the breaking waves at night. So blood-red tides on the one side and beautiful sea sparkle on the other, Noctiluca is the Jekyll and Hyde of HK’s marine environment.

Long exposure image of a Noctiluca scintillans patch (cm via WikiCommons):

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If you would like to know more about Actual toxic red tides in Hong Kong here is a little TV news documentary from 2013 I found on YouTube: