Coral riches 'need protection'
An expert says marine parks must be expanded after a survey uncovers numerous new species
An expert has called for the expansion of Hong Kong's marine parks after a survey revealed that local waters boast 84 species of hard coral - a third more than previously identified.
Associate biology professor at Chinese University Ang Put-o said that as the corals were an invaluable ecological asset and a key habitat for other marine life, they deserved better protection.
'It takes a long time for stony coral to grow. Increasing marine activities such as recreational diving or fishing and more pollution might cause damage to these sites,' he said.
Dr Ang, who participated in the underwater survey and is a member of the Country and Marine Parks Board, recommended expanding the parks where most of the species occur.
'Expanding the protection zone a bit in the northern waters will be enough to conserve the stony corals near Ap Chau and Kut O, which fall outside the marine park areas,' he said.
The species were found in about 30 locations.
The findings will serve as a scientific basis for the government when it considers proposals to better protect important sites. The recently completed survey, which began in August 2002, cost $600,000 and was funded by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. It was conducted by the marine science laboratory of the Chinese University in collaboration with overseas experts.
Of the 84 stony coral species, 10 were recorded for the first time.
There were only 63 species recorded in the early 1980s. Tung Ping Chau Marine Park has the highest coral diversity, with 65 species identified.
The area was designated as a marine park in 2001. Hoi Ha Wan, also a marine park, has about 52 species.
Of the 30 surveyed sites, 13 are located within or near marine parks in the northeast while the rest are located in Sai Kung, Po Toi, Lantau, the Ninepin Group and Cheung Chau.
Dr Ang said the general condition of the coral at the 30 sites remained good and two-thirds of the sites still have 50 per cent coral coverage. However, coral degradation with unknown causes was still observed at isolated sites.
Chan Lai-koon, senior marine conservation officer of the conservation department, said the study results will serve as a reference for studies on whether to expand the coverage of marine parks by the end of this year.
He said that the survey had also allowed for the collection of coral samples. 'These could serve as a useful tool for environmental impact assessment purposes in any projects that might affect marine sites,' he said.
Mr Chan said the public would be allowed to examine a reference collection of the samples at the department's headquarters in Sham Shui Po, while a new website about coral species identification will be launched at the end of April.
Unlike previous studies which only involved observation and recording of corals, the latest study involved the collection of 260 samples which were taken for laboratory study.
About 60 dives were made by researchers during the survey.
The team included coral scientists from the Chinese University's marine science laboratory and a veteran coral researcher from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, John Veron, the author of a three-volume coral guidebook, Corals of the World.