HKU marine scientists join hands with local oyster industry to set up the first oyster hatchery in Hong Kong, cultivating native seeds to sustain oyster aquaculture
Oysters have been an important commodity in Hong Kong for more than 700 years. While serving as a tasty and highly nutritious food source, oysters have also helped to clean and enrich our seawater, and their reefs provide habitat and nursery grounds for many native species that are otherwise lost from our shores. However, the local oyster agriculture in Lau Fau Shan and the surrounding waters of Deep Bay has been severely hindered by coastal modification, the seasonal shift in temperature and salinity due to climate change, pollution and emerging pathogens in the recent years, which not only leads to huge summer and winter mortality of oysters (as high as 80%), but also has affected the livelihood for thousands of growers around the area. As demand for sustainable supply of this precious seafood is rapidly growing, there is an urgency to identify an oyster strain with relatively high-stress tolerance and immune resistance power to overcome at least some of these novel human-induced environmental constraints. In view of this, Marine Scientists at School of Biological Sciences and The Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) of The University of Hong Kong (HKU), join hands with the local oyster industry to set up the Hong Kong Oyster Hatchery & Innovation Research Unit, which aims to develop innovative hatchery technology in partnership with growers and industry that re-establishes high-quality natural resources and delivers superior oyster seeds for sustainable coastal aquaculture particularly in South China and Hong Kong. The facility will commence operation in July 2022. On 27th May, 2022, the hatchery and aquaculture experts from the northern, middle and southern part of mainland China gathered at HKU to discuss the oyster hatchery and its relevance for sustainable aquaculture with Hong Kong’s oyster growers, government agency, industry, NGOs, researchers, and other stakeholders, in order to identify ways through which the proposed oyster hatchery could be integrated with national effort to develop sustainable oyster aquaculture with a global perspective. The project received 5.28 million funding from the Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund (SFDF) of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), and 3 million generous donation from Lee Kum Kee Company Limited. Under their support, an oyster hatchery at a research scale will be set up at HKU campus, using novel hatchery technologies to enhance oyster seed production. After the settlement of the oyster spat, the final stage of seed production will be taken place at the laboratory of SWIMS, which is located in the Cape D’Aguilar marine reserve, where the seeds will be maintained and monitored for few weeks before supplying to local growers. The laboratory set up at The Hong Kong Oyster Hatchery The hatchery at HKU Campus contains an Algal Culture area to supply adequate food for the nursery culture of both oyster larvae and spats in the hatchery room. A Larval Culture area made the major part of the hatchery, which has its own re-circulation facility for over 2000L of seawater and supports larval settlement and spat culture facility. A significantly large Chemical Lab area for studying oyster meat quality and food safety parameters. The project aims to produce oyster seeds of three local oyster species: Crassostrea hongkongensis (Hong Kong oysters), Crassostrea ariakensis (Suminoe oysters) and Crassostrea angulata (Portuguese oysters), and estimates to produce 10,000 strings of oyster seeds, with each string holding 200 good quality oysters approximately per year. The trial seed production will start in summer 2022, and full-scale seed production is expected to be done by summer 2023. Local stakeholders, including oyster growers, will adopt the technology for their oyster production by the year 2024. Building these innovative tools would help local growers and government authorities to modernise the oyster aquaculture industry in the region, hoping to have a direct impact, particularly in South China and Hong Kong. Mr CHOW Wing Kuen, Senior Fisheries Officer (Aquaculture Fisheries) of the AFCD noted, “Oyster hatchery will demonstrate the feasibility and economic viability of local oyster seeds production, which ensures faster growth of disease-resistant local strains, and improve the livelihood of local oyster farmers.” Mr CHUNG Shiu Cheong, General Manager of Oyster Hatchery (China) said on behalf of Lee Kum Kee Company Limited, that the company would continue to seize every opportunity to contribute to the society, “We are honoured to have this opportunity to collaborate with the research team at HKU which specialises in oceanology and marine science. We truly believe it will lead the local oyster industry to a bright and successful future.” Professor Vivian Wing-Wah YAM, HKU Dean of Science (Interim) and Philip Wong Wilson Wong Professor in Chemistry and Energy appreciated the collaboration between HKU Marine Scientists and the industry, “I am delighted to have representatives from local oyster growers, the government, industry, NGOs and student entrepreneurs gathering to develop a strong interlined network of collaborations and knowledge exchange involving all stakeholders and importantly, local industry and to discuss and identify ways to tackle and overcome the challenges.” Dr Thiyagarajan VENGATESEN of HKU School of Biological Sciences and The Swire Institute of Marine Science, who took the lead in setting up the Hong Kong Oyster Hatchery & Innovation Research Unit said, the hatchery was designed not only for oyster seed production but also as a platform for research, education, and knowledge exchange, “We hope that this oyster hatchery will foster interdisciplinary research to modernise the green carbon neutral oyster aquaculture industry, as well as networking with global leaders to identify quality breed that contains trait of interest using big data and machine learning tools.” At the kick-off meeting of The Hong Kong Oyster Hatchery and Innovation Research Unit, the hatchery and aquaculture experts, local oyster industry, government agency and other stakeholders gathered to discuss the sustainability of Oyster aquaculture in Hong Kong. From the left: Mr CHUNG Shiu Cheong, General Manager of Oyster Hatchery (China), Mr Brian LEE (Director of Manufacturing) and Mrs Elizabeth MOK (Technical Service Director) of Lee Kum Kee Company Limited; Professor Vivian Wing-Wah YAM, HKU Dean of Science (Interim) and Philip Wong Wilson Wong Professor in Chemistry and Energy; Mr CHOW Wing-Kuen, Senior Fisheries Officer (Aquaculture Fisheries) of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department; Dr Thiyagarajan VENGATESEN of HKU School of Biological Sciences and The Swire Institute of Marine Science; Mr Fung CHAN of Hong Kong Oyster Company Limited.
HKU Astrophysicist Professor Quentin Parker and His Collaborators Awarded the 2022 Gemini Prize
Professor Quentin A PARKER, Director of the Laboratory for Space Research (LSR) at The University of Hong Kong, together with his collaborator, Pascal Le Dû, amateur astronomer and 2SPOT association President, as well as amateur astronomers and members of the 2SPOT association Thomas Petit, Lionel Mulato and Olivier Garde, are awarded Le Prix Gemini 2022 (the 2022 Gemini Prize) co-organised by La Société astronomique de France (SAF) and Société Française d’ Astronomie et d’Astrophysique (SF2A), for their project ‘Search for and Confirmation of Planetary Nebulae Candidates’. ‘I feel honoured and humbled to receive this international recognition of the importance of our professional astronomical work with our French amateur colleagues in the discovery and confirmation of a significant new sample of Galactic Planetary Nebulae (the beautiful glowing shrouds of low mass dying stars). This “prix Gemini” is a fitting reward for the more than a decade of work of many of my close French amateur colleagues, led by Pascal Le Dû, in this incredible pro-am endeavour of scientific discovery, and I am proud to have played a role in their great pursuit,’ said Professor Parker. The prize (medal, diploma and cash award), which is set up to reward outstanding collaboration between professionals and amateurs in astronomy and related sciences, will be delivered during the SF2A Symposium to be held in Besancon, France, on June 10, 2022. A talk will be given by the awardees during the Gemini Pro-Am workshop on the same day. The project also has an opportunity to publish a paper in a coming issue of L’Astronomie magazine, an edition of Société astronomique de France, by the year end of 2022. About the Project This prestigious award results from an intensive and coordinated ten-year observational pro-am program designed to uncover and confirm Galactic Planetary Nebulae (PNe). This has been undertaken by a dedicated group of largely French amateur astronomers led by Pascal Le Dû in collaboration with professional colleagues led by Professor Quentin Parker. This group has so far uncovered 209 spectroscopically confirmed Galactic PNe. These discoveries represent ~5% of all 3831 Galactic PNe currently known according to the HASH (Hong Kong AAO Strasbourg H-alpha Planetary Nebula) PNe database. This award recognises the power and value of the amateur community in undertaking a coordinated and focused program such as this with their professional counterparts. About Professor Quentin Parker and Laboratory for Space Research Quentin Parker joined The University of Hong Kong in 2015 and is currently Director of the Laboratory for Space Research (LSR, see https://www.lsr.hku.hk). Research activities are mainly associated with Wide Field Astronomy, and he has discovered more Planetary Nebulae (PNe) than anyone in history. He has also extensive experience as an astrophysics instrumentalist and has published 571 papers/articles, of which 278 are refereed. These have more than 23475 citations with a h-index of 71. Quentin also has a long-term interest in Chinese Bronze artefacts and cultural heritage, interdisciplinary studies and science pedagogy. More recently, Quentin has been engaged in promoting STEM education from a Space and entrepreneurial direction (see https://cubesat.hku.hk) and is currently Vice Chairman of OASA – the Orion Astropreneur Space Academy (https://www.oasahk.org). He is also an active newspaper opinion piece contributor.
HKU Conservation Forensics Lab develops novel environmental DNA monitoring method for identifying rare and endangered fish species sold in Hong Kong wet markets
In a paper recently published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, researchers in the Conservation Forensics Lab at The University of Hong Kong have outlined a powerful new tool for monitoring trade of rare and endangered fish species in Hong Kong wet markets. Using environmental DNA (eDNA) present in the drain runoff water of fish markets, researchers were able to extract and sequence enough DNA to identify over 100 species of fish that had passed through the market. Various types of vulnerable or endangered species were detected by the eDNA method in the study, including Epinephelus fuscoguttatus, a type of brown marbled grouper which is listed as vulnerable and decreasing according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and three eel species including Anguilla japonica and Anguilla rostrata, which are listed as endangered by IUCN, as well as CITES(Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)-listed European eel, Anguilla anguilla. Two types of bream were detected including the golden threadfin bream (Nemipterus virgatus) which is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, and the Okinawa seabream (Acanthopagus sivicolus), listed as vulnerable and decreasing by the IUCN. Metabarcoding Allows Identification of Species At Once Barcoding is a common method of species identification, wherein certain regions of an organism’s genome are sequenced and used to identify the organism in question. Each species has its own unique ‘barcode’, which can provide a more reliable form of identification than traditional morphology-based methods. This technique can be expanded to identifying many species at once (known as metabarcoding) thanks to advanced high-throughput sequencing technology. Even the small amounts of DNA shed from plants and animals into the environment (eDNA) are sufficient for metabarcoding which enables identification of mixed communities of species that may have been present in the area. In this study, researchers in the Conservation Forensics Lab aimed to develop a method for identifying fish species traded in Hong Kong markets that does not rely on having fish taxonomy experts spend hours visually identifying every fish on sale. Further, many fish vendors are often reluctant to permit lengthy inspections of their wares, as endangered fish species can often be found for sale in Hong Kong markets. The method outlined in the paper compared the two most common types of eDNA capture: filtration and precipitation. In the filtration method, one litre of water collected from the drains in three wet markets was collected and passed through a fine filter, which captured tissue, blood, and other cellular debris holding enough DNA to make an identification of the fish species that shed it. The precipitation method used even less water, enabling identification of fish species present by chemical precipitation of eDNA present in cellular debris from 45 ml of drain runoff. After the drain water was collected, eDNA was extracted and sequenced and fish species present in the three wet markets investigated over a 5-day period were identified. To confirm the results, an expert fish taxonomist performed a visual survey, and the overlap of species detections were compared. High Reliability and Easy to Adapt While it is impossible to be 100% certain in identifying every single species present with either method, the advantages of a DNA-based survey method are numerous. Chiefly, DNA-based IDs can be more reliable than morphological IDs, and this is especially true when fish are sold butchered or belong to certain similar-looking genera and families. The DNA extraction method outlined in the paper is also very simple and can easily be executed by anyone with basic molecular lab training of several hours. Visual surveys require hours and hours of extensive work by multiple expert taxonomists, which has been a factor holding back rollout of regular surveys in Hong Kong. ‘We hope that our method will not only encourage local authorities to adopt more high-tech solutions to monitoring and combatting the illegal wildlife trade in Hong Kong, but also help expand the use of eDNA and metabarcoding further into urban contexts,’ said John L RICHARDS, co-author of the journal paper. About HKU Conservation Forensics Lab Working towards the conservation of illegally traded wildlife in Hong Kong, members of the Conservation Forensics Lab at HKU are trained in various tools and techniques for identifying the legality of seized species. In order to support government and conservation efforts in curbing the trade of threatened species, the lab provides a platform for interdisciplinary scientific research and education to the general public. For more information about the Lab, please visit: https://www.ccf-hku.com Link of journal paper: https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/2041-210X.13842