Tag Archives: marine ecology

Hong Kong’s Only Marine Reserve Under Strain of Unruly Visitors

The SCMP reported yesterday that a surge in visitor numbers to the ecologically sensitive Cape D’Aguilar and its marine reserve has disrupted the work of scientists, with people even collecting animals and fishing illegally.

Quoting Professor Gray Williams of the Swire Institute of Marine Science research facility (SWIMS) it reported that a surge of visitors in the past few years to Cape D’Aguilar at the southeastern tip of Hong Kong Island has disrupted research and experiments and raised safety concerns.

Some of the damage caused was cited as treading on things, changing the water supply, pulling small seedlings out of their pods and not putting them back and so that they die and standing on animals and thereby killing them.

The researchers and students at the station also observed visitors collecting animals or fishing in the area, which is illegal as the area is a no-take marine reserve.

The research centre and nearby residences are private property but visitors have attempted to enter the buildings – some successfully – despite the “private property” signs . The centre has therefore put up barriers and installed locks, but people are still attempting to bypass them. Most visitors were generally “very reasonable” when confronted, but some refused to stop what they were doing and loud arguments with resulted, according to Williams.

Williams said he did not want to impose the “ultimate” solution of putting up a wall, because it would spoil the aesthetics of the place, but may have to consider it if the situation did not improve.

The area surrounding SWIMS at Cape d’Aguilar is a designated site of scientific interest by the government in 1991. SWIMS opened in November 1994 to conduct marine research in and around the marine reserve.

Around 2013 after a number of articles about Cape D’Aguilar Lighthouse in local newspapers, researchers saw a marked increase in sightseers to the area . Unobscured by air and light pollution the area also saw many star-gazers who want to study a night sky . There are even websites arranging trips by tour groups, with some even listing the private research facility as a landmark to visit. All of this is putting increased pressure on the site’s ability to handle visitors.

Williams hoped that making people aware of the situation could help to minimise the impact their presence had on the area.
“Trying to go through education, to explain to people, that if you are to come down here then you need to be careful to make sure that [they] don’t disrupt the environment, because we can see that the environment has already been damaged by the number of people coming here,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department said its responsibility was to the marine reserve – the waters below the high tide mark – and not the coastal rocky area or other land areas in Cape D’Aguilar.

(My own commentary on this: Unlike the clear distinction of areas of responsibility in HK government departments, the marine habitats do not generally define so clearly. The cross-over from sea-to-land is not a distinct line but a continuum with dependencies on both sides. Many insects and land invertebrates will feed on marine detritus at low tide, many land plants disperse via the sea, and many marine animals depend on land-based organisms for food. It would be wise for government departments to recognize this and use a more inter-disciplinary approach to protect areas where two departments responsibilities meet instead of sticking to “their area”. The same incidentally applied to the air-pollution problem in HK, when the EPD was responsible for air pollution, but if you saw a ship bellowing out black smoke and reported it to the EPD, they could not do anything about it because that was the Marine Departments responsibility. However, I think this issue has since been addressed and there are inter-department groups now.

Extend restricted zone at Lamma turtle beach to keep out junk parties, urge green groups

A wider restricted area in southern Lamma would keep out the noisy junk parties that threaten the nesting site of rare creatures

It’s a sunny September day and half a dozen junks and pleasure boats are anchored in a scenic inlet on southern Lamma Island.
House music is booming and banana boat-tugging speedboats zip across the bay, while those with the energy make the 50-metre swim to shore – unknowingly committing an illegal act by frolicking on the sandy shores of Sham Wan beach.
The beach is one of the few regular nesting sites for endangered green sea turtles in southern China and is a restricted area during the breeding season between June and October. It was designated a site of special scientific interest in 1999.
Illegal entry is liable to a maximum fine of HK$50,000, but that’s only if nature wardens are able to stop such violations.
Scientists and green groups want the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to ramp up protection efforts by expanding the 0.5-hectare restricted zone to the entire bay to keep out junk parties.
A study by the Eco-Education and Resources Centre between 2013 and 2015 recorded anywhere between 12 and 17 boats anchored in the bay at weekends. Average noise levels went as high as 80 decibels, similar to a police siren, in some parts of the bay.
Green turtles are known for their migratory behaviour and loyalty to feeding sites and nesting grounds. Tracking efforts show they usually swim to Wanshan Archipelago, Fujian waters, the Pratas Islands, the Spratly Islands and the Philippines after visiting Hong Kong.
“Nesting sea turtles are easily affected by human activity,” said ERC science manager Dr Michelle Cheung Ma-shan.

  

“If a turtle is put off from approaching the beach, it will be forced to lay its eggs underwater, where they will die.”
There have already been notable drops over the years. Between 1998 and 2006, there were 14 records of nesting turtles in Sham Wan. But only two have been documented since 2006, with the last sighting in 2012.
Floating markers similar to ones used in marine parks could be set up to demarcate the entire bay as a protected area.

  

The ultimate goal is to establish a marine park in hopes that strengthened conservation efforts can bring back sea turtles in greater numbers, says Ken Ching See-ho, the ERC’s founder and director.
“The first step is to expand the restricted area under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance.”
Cheung said nature wardens should be patrolling the beach to keep people out, but their field studies showed they were only present about “60 to 70 per cent of the time”.
Ching said the department could look to successful examples of turtle protection areas overseas, such as the Sandakan Turtle Island Park in Sabah, Malaysia, and a protected area in Taiwan’s Penghu Islands.
Green Power chief executive Dr Man Chi-sam said Hong Kong’s efforts at turtle conservation were “very behind” and “very passive”. “[The findings] also reflect the low public awareness and understanding of this species in Hong Kong,” he said.
A department spokesman said regular patrols were conducted in the area to control unauthorised entry and to monitor the nesting activities of green turtles. “We will step up patrols and put up more warning signs to alert the public not to enter during the restricted period.”

Source: SCMP, 15 Oct 2015

Whale Shark Spotted off Sai Kung

On Monday morning (20/7/15) at around 9am, a fisherman was out on his 20-foot-long boat off the shores of Tung Lung Chau Island, south of Sai Kung, when he spotted what he thought to be a shark.

It was a gentle whale shark, the largest fish in the ocean which feeds on plankton with the occasional small squid or fish.

Once the fisherman realised that the animal posed him no harm, he observed it and took photos for the next half hour before it swam away, reports Headline News.

Whale sharks can reach up to about 13 metres in length and 21 tons in weight.

The last time a whale shark was sighted in Hong Kong was in 2012.

The president of the Ichthyological Society of Hong Kong believes that the trawling ban has led to healthier fish populations. He predicts that in the future, we’ll be seeing even more sharks in Hong Kong.

Dead Fish Found Along Kwun Tong Promenade

Thousands of dead fish were found floating in the water along the Kwun Tong promenade over the weekend
(11-7-12/7/2015), releasing a strong stench that many passersby found unbearable.
The dead fish covered a two-kilometer stretch along the promenade, and it took the Marine Department seven hours to clean up about 2,000 kilos, Apple Daily reported.

Several species were identified, including tilapia, seabream, grey mullet and spotted silver scat.

Cheung Ma-shan, science manager at the Eco-Education and Resources Center, said the mass death could be due to the low oxygen content in the water caused by typhoon Linfa.

Chong Dee-hwa from the Ichthyological Society of Hong Kong said the typhoon could have stirred up mud and toxins from the bottom of the sea, thus affecting fish populations.

The Department of Environmental Protection was undertaking tests of water samples obtained in the vicinity.

HKD 4.3M Grants Won for Tolo Harbor (吐露港) Biodiversity & Ecology Research

More than 25 local marine biologists have been awarded a grant that will enable them to study the marine biodiversity and ecology of the Tolo Harbour and channel.

Tolo Harbor is a semi-enclosed body of water in the northeast of Hong Kong linked to the sea only by the narrow Tolo Channel. The Tolo Channel and Harbor were infamous in the 1980’s for terrible water pollution, fould smells and red tides. A rapid expansion of urban areas on the firnge of Tolo Harbor with direct, untreated sewage discharges into the Harbor caused large scale eutrophication. The sewage outfalls provided nutrients feeding massive algal blooms which subsequently died and their decomposition by microorganisms used up so much oxygen that the water and sediment became anoxic, killing fish and many other marine organism (again feeding oxygen demand form decomposition) and causing foul smelling water. The problem was made much worse because Tolo Harbor is not very well flushed with new oxygenated water from the sea. It was eventually improved by providing proper modern sewage treatment and recognizing the particular vulnerablility of the area to eutrophication.

The HK$4.3 million will benefit the Joint University Consortium for Biodiversity, Ecology and Conservation of Marine Ecosystems and comes via the Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF). The ECF was established by the government in 1994 as part of its long-term commitment to environmental protection and conservation and received an injection of $5 billion in 2013, to serve as seed money generating an annual investment returns to support green projects and activities. The ECF has so far funded over 4,290 educational, research, and other projects and activities in relation to environmental and conservation matters.

Despite the funding being delayed for about two years, the proposal was approved last month and the 18-month project will commence later this year. The first stage of the two-phase study is aimed at finding the current ecological status of the area as well as the economic value of marine resources. The team will establish a comprehensive species database of the area. Kevin Ho King-yan, a senior research assistant at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, said the proposal was aired at least two rounds of interviews, possibly because of the large amount of money required.

“Usually, project funding proposals to the conservation fund average around the hundred thousand mark, but this time it is in the millions,” he said. The announcement comes after an international conference, jointly organized by the Swire Institute of Marine Science and the University of Hong Kong School of Biological Sciences, kicked off at HKU yesterday.

More than 280 participants from 26 countries have come together for the four-day conference to discuss issues such as coastal development and marine conservation. More than 20 marine scientists from overseas and the mainland are attending. Organizing committee chairman Kenneth Leung Mei-yee said experts from across the globe need to work together to map out a plan to protect marine biodiversity. “We need experts from all different sectors to join hands together to uncover what we have and how we can protect them and how we can make sustainable use of these resources,” Leung said.

Note: The Hoi Ha Wan marine park – noted for its corals – is located at the seaward mouth of the Tolo Channel.

Source: The Standard 2nd June 2015

Vietnam Also Guilty of Destroying Reefs in S. China Sea

It is not just China destroying reefs in the South China Sea by reclaiming land to form island outposts to boost territorial claims. Vietnam is also reclaiming land by dumping enormous amounts of sand on two reefs destroying coral communities and changing the local ecology and likely adversely affecting fish stocks.

The photographs, shared with Reuters by Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), show an expansion of the land area of Vietnamese-controlled Sand Cay and West London Reef in the Spratly archipelego and the addition of buildings.

 

Sandy Cay (largest islet in the image) is small islet in the South China Sea occupied by Vietnam. it is visited by seabirds and was home to a rich marine diversity.
 

The director of CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (http://amti.csis.org/), said the work included military installations and appeared to have started before China began a flurry of reclamation projects last year. “On one site, it has constructed a significant new area that was formerly under water and at another it has used land reclamation to add acreage to an existing island,” Rapp-Hooper said.

The images showed that Vietnam had reclaimed about 65,000 square meters (699,654 square feet) of land at West London Reef and 21,000 square meters (226,042 square feet) at Sand Cay. This compared to 900,000 square meters (9.6 million square feet) reclaimed by China at a single reef, Fiery Cross.
 
Satellite images show that since about March 2014, China had conducted reclamation work at seven sites in the Spratlys and was constructing a military-sized air strip on one artificial island and possibly a second on another.

It appears that claimants to the South China Sea have entered into a land building race that destroys ecology and depletes fish stocks as a result. There can be no real winners in such a race – everybody will lose.

International Ban on Toxic Ship Paint (TBT) Likely to Be (Finally) Fully Implemented in HK Soon

On the 21st of April a committee meeting was held in Legco (HK law making body) to discuss a new regulation on harmful anti-fouling systems. The legislation seeks to ban the use of organotin such as tributylin (TBT) compounds in paints used on ships which kill any organisms trying to colonize the hulls such as barnacles, worm, mussels, algae and others. Despite a lot of petty squabbling (and personal digs at the previous colonial administrations) it looks hopeful that regulation may eventually make it to a 2nd and 3rd reading in Legco and pass into law.

Tributylin (TBT) is a chemical that was used extensively in anti-fouling paints (bottom paints) on ships to improve efficiency by preventing invertebrates and plants clinging to the hulls. TBT is the most successful anti-fouling agent ever invented and was relatively cheap. It was used extensively for 40 years. But TBT slowly leaches out into the marine environment where it is highly toxic to a wide range of organisms beyond the organisms that it was intended to kill. By poisoning barnacles, algae, and other organisms at the bottom of the food chain, TBT levels are concentrated (biomagnified) up the marine food web and even up to us humans. It also causes developmental problems in marine organisms. One of the most studied organisms are marine snails, such as the Dog whelk (Nucella lapillus) in Europe and America.  TBT leads a condition termed ‘imposex’ where female snails are ‘masculinized’ and grow penises.  Since fewer fertile females are then available for mating, the population begins to decline, which disturbs the balance of the ecosystem.

Large ocean going vessels frequently used anti-fouling bottom paints containing TBT to keep barnacles and other adhesive animals off the hulls to lower resistance and save fuel. (via WikiCommons)
Large ocean-going vessels frequently used anti-fouling bottom paints containing TBT to keep barnacles and other adhesive animals off the hulls to lower resistance and save fuel. (via WikiCommons)

Vertebrates such as fish and mammals can become affected by TBT through contact with waters contaminated with TBT and by eating already poisoned seafood.  The Japanese rice fish (Oryzias latipes), has been used as a model to test the effects of TBT at different developmental stages of the embryo. Scientists found that as TBT concentration increased the developmental rate decreased and that tail abnormalities occurred as a result. Studies have shown that TBT is harmful to the immune system. Research also shows that TBT reduces resistance to infection in fish which live on the seabed and experience high levels of TBT. These areas tend to have silty sediment like harbours and estuaries (like Hong Kong). Mammals, exposed to TBT through their diet, also suffer. TBT can lead to immunosuppression in sea-otters and dolphins. High levels of TBT were found in the livers of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) and stranded bottlenose dolphins. TBT has also been blamed by hearing experts for causing hearing loss in mammalian top predators such as whales. Because hearing is important for mating and predation in these animals, long-term consequences could be drastic.

Bottlenose dolphins are affected (via WikiCommons)
Bottlenose dolphins sometimes have high levels of TBT in their livers (via WikiCommons)

How TBT can move up the food chain was shown by one study that found most samples of skipjack tuna tested positive for TBT. Tuna from waters around developing Asian nations had particularly high levels of TBT most likely because the regulation of TBT is not as well enforced in Asia as it is in Europe or the US.

Skipjack Tuna sushi - can contain levels of TBT (via WikiCommons)
Skipjack Tuna sushi – can contain levels of TBT (via WikiCommons)

In addition TBT last for a long time in the marine environment. Its half-life in the marine environment is around 25 years. TBT sticks to seabed sediments. But that process is reversible and depends on the pH of the seawater. Studies have shown that 95% of TBT can be released from the sediments back into the aquatic environment. This release makes it difficult to quantify the amount of TBT in an environment, since its concentration in the water is not representative of its availability.

TBT Pollution in Hong Kong

In 1995 a study showed that 3 of the 4 species examined had sign of distorted sex organ development (imposex) and the authors inferred TBT as the cause. Another study in 2000 of 24 species found 5 species with imposex. Again the author inferred TBT as cause. In 2001 a study found the concentration required to cause imposex for one local species was as low as 0.000001 grams per liter.

Like these European dogwhelk snails,  several species of local marine snails have been shown to have suffered TBT-induced maldevelopment of sex organs. (via WikiCommons)
Like these European dogwhelk snails, several species of local marine snails have been shown to have suffered TBT-induced maldevelopment of sex organs. (via WikiCommons)

In the 2004-2012 monitoring, TBT was generally not detected in marine water, river water, sewage effluent or storm water runoff samples by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). According to the EPD the levels of TBT in Hong Kong marine sediments mostly met Australia‘s sediment quality guideline for the protection of benthic organisms and were generally within the range (falling on the low-side) reported in other Asian countries, such as Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia. The levels of TBT in the biota species were low and largely comparable with the levels for biota in the Pearl River Estuary area.

The Actions of the Hong Kong  Government

The production, import and export of TBT paints was already banned in HK. In 1990, the Marine Environment Protection Committee recommended that the Government eliminate the use of TBT-containing antifouling paints on smaller vessels. This was intended to be a temporary restriction until the International Maritime Organization could implement a complete ban of TBT anti-fouling agents for ships, which it did in 2001. The use of TBT in antifouling paint was banned (deregistered) in Hong Kong in 1992.  But this new HK regulation seeks to now fully implement the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-Fouling Systems on Ships from 2001 which includes certification requirement for large ships in Hong Kong waters and also extends to Hong Kong registered ships anywhere in the world.

The LEGCO (legislative council) conmplex in Central where the new regulation is being discussed. (via WikiCommons)
The LEGCO (legislative council) conmplex in Central where the new regulation is being discussed. (via WikiCommons)

The Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-Fouling Systems on Ships came about in 2001. Mainland China implemented this Convention in 2011, but Hong Kong (as a major port city) is only now discussing this.

Despite the international bans, TBT will most likely be present in the water column and sediment for up to twenty years because of its long half-life.

Violations of the Ban 

Even though its banned by some international agencies, TBT anti-fouling paints are still being used in some countries with poor regulation enforcement, such as countries in the Caribbean.


Note: the new subsidiary legislation (title: Merchant Shipping (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Ordinance (Cap. 413) Merchant Shipping (Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships) Regulation) was published in the Gazette on the 20th of March 2015, introduced into the Legislative Council on 25 March 2015. It was refered for discussion to the subcommittee on Merchant Shipping on the 10th of April 2015. In their report published on the 6th of May 2015 the subcommittee supported the subsidiary legislation. Having cleared the first hurdle.