SDG14 Life Below Water
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, sea, and marine resources for sustainable development
Photo Credit: Project Ha Giang 2019
International research on deep-sea monitoring
Our researchers from the Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) conducted a global survey on deep-sea conservation, reaching out to over 100 world’s leading deep-sea scientists. The purpose of the survey was to create a list of priorities of ecological variables for deep-sea monitoring, conservation, and management that is well recognised by the science community. The results of the survey show that habitat-forming species were considered the most important area for conservation efforts, and large and medium-bodied organisms were considered the top priority for biodiversity monitoring in deep-sea habitats. The survey results will be useful in establishing guidelines and conservation strategy for future deep-sea research.
Ecological impact of accidental palm stearin spill
Since 2017, the HKU researchers from the School of Biological Sciences and SWIMS has launched an 18-month study to investigate the biological impact of a marine accident occurred in August 2017, where 1,000 tonnes of palm stearin were released into the sea, of which 200 tonnes reached the southwest coasts of Hong Kong.
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The research team conducted field and laboratory-based investigations at selected sites over Hong Kong to study the degradation, bioaccumulation, and toxicity of palm stearin. The results show that the rates of disintegration and degradation of palm stearin were very slow. Also, findings revealed that palm stearin has adverse effects in pelagic planktons and zooplanktons, which might prohibit their growth or cause mortality.
The team conducted ecological risk assessments to study the effectiveness of the actions conducted by the HKSAR Government and the community shortly after the incident. The findings show that the ecological risk of the locations was significantly reduced four months after the incident, which highlights the importance of removing the palm stearin immediately from the shores could minimise the long-term impact to the marine environment.
Engagement and Outreach
Innovative solutions for the local oyster industry
Inspired by the Oyster Aquaculture: Business and Technology course, a group of HKU students founded Soolution, a start-up company to cultivate oysters using innovative methods. The company develops solutions to tackle challenges faced by the local oyster growing industry. Firstly, the existing bamboo raft design is vulnerable to typhoons, over 80% of oyster rafts were destroyed during Typhoon Mangkhut in 2018. Also, when the oyster growers attempt to maximise their yield, the quality of the oysters are compromised due to overcrowding. Lastly, very few young people are willing to join the labour-intensive oyster growing industry.
Soolution designed Modern Shellfish Home (MSH), an innovative shellfish raft design to address these issues. The raft is equipped with a typhoon resistance system that sinks the raft during typhoons, avoiding direct contact with winds and waves. The design also includes a transportation system that rotates oysters on the raft automatically, allowing all oysters to be fed adequately. Finally, the off-field monitor and control system allows the growers to monitor and operate the raft through an app.
The solution has received support and praises from the oyster industry, including from the world-renowned oyster sauce brand Lee Kum Kee. The project team is currently developing prototypes and conducting field tests for MSH and expect to launch it to the market in 2022.
Teaching, Learning and Students Activities
Courses and programmes
Marine ecosystems make up the largest aquatic system in the world and shall be protected. Hence, HKU prepares our students with the knowledge and skills related to ecological conservation and management. Our major in Ecology and Biodiversity teaches students to understand the interaction between organisms and their environments as well as key threats and conservation approaches that lead to sustainable management. In the advanced courses of the programme, students can focus on applied or specialised topics such as fisheries and mariculture, tropical terrestrial and marine ecology, and biodiversity conservation.
Disposable Plastic-free Campus Policy
HKU has successfully implemented the Disposable Plastic-free Campus Policy in September 2020 to reduce plastic waste on campus. The policy applies to all catering outlets, retail locations and vending machines located on university premises; the distribution of 10 disposable plastic items including disposable plastic food service ware, drink bottles and event banners, are prohibited under the policy. Further to our previous waste reduction efforts achieved under the Policy on Disposable Plastic Straws and Policy on Disposable Plastic Bottles, the new policy is estimated to further reduce 1 million disposable items each year. Through the collective efforts of all students, retailers, caterers, and other campus users, the university reduced plastic disposal significantly.