Find a wealth of colour in the wonderful world of coral reefs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 12:00am

If you like colourful things, you will love coral.

Extensive coral communities can be seen in Tung Ping Chau, northeast of Hong Kong. The island also features a 270-hectare marine park, with so much for you to discover.

Coral is a form of animal life. Many of the splendid colours of living coral comes from the symbiotic algae. The algae's scientific name is 'zooxanthellae'.

Zooxanthellae lives inside the coral, producing food that is shared by both. In return, the coral provides the algae with protection and access to light.

However, the symbiotic association between coral and algae will break down when they are put under a lot of stress. This is what we call 'coral bleaching'.

This results in corals exposing the white calcium carbonate skeletons of their colonies. Coral bleaching may indicate poor health or death of coral. Disease, excess shade, increased levels of ultraviolet radiation, sedimentation, pollution, changes in the salt level, and increased temperatures are all causes of the whitening process.

Coral also feeds on small fish or organic debris. It can live for up to a decade or, in special cases, even for centuries. Large coral communities provide shelter for other organisms to settle in. Coral communities can therefore provide numerous organisms with abundant food resources.

Animals in Hong Kong's coral communities are very diverse. You can see sea anemone, starfish, sea urchins and reef fish.

Besides Tung Ping Chau, extensive coral reefs are also found in bays at Port Shelter and Hoi Ha Wan.

In collaboration with the Reef Check Foundation, the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department has been co-ordinating an annual survey of coral in Hong Kong since 2000. For details of the annual Hong Kong reef check, visit

* The trip to Tung Ping Chau is suitable for families.

How to get there:

There are ferries to and from Ma Liu Shui pier, outside the Chinese University of Hong Kong, at weekends. Make sure you have the updated ferry timetable and book your ticket before your journey. The number for the transport company is 2527 2513.

Graphic: 1510P4GYO