In tandem with the development of the local Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan under the international Convention on Biological Diversity, a mega-project has been initiated by the Environment Bureau of the HKSAR Government to assess the current status of marine coastal communities in Tolo Harbour and Channel (Tolo area), an area that is known to support a highly diverse flora and fauna but is affected by intense human activities. A multidisciplinary team consisting of 24 scientists and environmentalists from different local institutions have joined to undertake a comprehensive ecological study, covering a wide range of habitats (e.g., rocky and soft shores, mangroves, and subtidal rocky reef) and taxonomic groups (e.g., waterbirds, juvenile fish, plankton and coral) from October 2015 to September 2018 (Phase I and II of the project). The Tolo area was divided into four sections where quantitative surveys were conducted twice in each of the dry (December to March) and wet (May to September) seasons to assess spatial and temporal variations in biodiversity. Qualitative surveys using systematic searches for organisms were also conducted in the wet season to produce a more complete species inventory of the study area. The project also assesses the economic value of marine resources through interviews and economic modelling.
A total of 1473 marine species and 124 birds (including 45 waterbirds) have been recorded, adding 294 new records of marine taxa (recorded as species, genus or family level) to the Hong Kong Register of Marine Species (HKRMS). These new records will be subsequently added to HKRMS. As a highlight, two new species have been described and one species has been redescribed from the findings of this study. They included a new tree-climbing micro-crab Haberma tingkok (led by Dr. Stefano Cannicci, The University of Hong Kong), and a new polychaete worm Marphysa hongkongensa and the redescribed polychaete Leocrates chinensis (led by Dr. Qiu Jian Wen, Hong Kong Baptist University). The team also documented the spatial and temporal variations of species diversity, and the occurrence of fourteen species of conservation concern, including Hippocampus kuda (Vulnerable), Corvus torquatus (Near Threatened) and Upogebia major (Endangered). The team has updated the marine species database for Hong Kong, and also helped identify biodiversity hotspots which can aid conservation and sustainable development.
The integration of these data will not only contribute to producing a species database for scientific, conservation and educational purposes, but more importantly this mega-project will also establish a blueprint of standardised, scientific practice for future marine biodiversity assessments in Hong Kong waters.
To facilitate knowledge exchange and public engagement, public lectures and stakeholders’ meetings have been held throughout the project period. Preliminary results generated from this project were also presented in regional and international conferences. The team also trained 197 student and volunteer helpers from 24 local and overseas institutions (i.e., universities, colleges, NGOs, environmental companies and associations, etc.) who can contribute to marine science studies of Hong Kong.