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WHAT IS “114˚E”?

“114˚E” is the longitudinal coordinates marking the eastern territories of Hong Kong waters, where most of this project’s survey dives take place. Shielded from the influx of freshwater from the Pearl River Delta towards the west side of Hong Kong, the eastern waters enjoy a relatively higher underwater visibility throughout most days of the warmer months when surveys are conducted, providing safer and more favourable conditions for the underwater visual census.


MISSION

To establish baseline knowledge of Hong Kong’s reef fish through scientific underwater surveys by citizen scientists, overseen and guided by the project’s marine researchers.

Advice is also sought from expert Working Group members.


APPROACHES

To meet our mission, the 114°E Survey takes the following 6 approaches:
  • Conduct scientific research to collect comprehensive and up-to-date monitoring data on Hong Kong’s reef fish
  • Facilitate knowledge management and synthesis through this foundational database created by continuous surveying
  • Share the knowledge on this publicly accessible platform, usable by both laymen and experts
  • Promote appreciation and encourage further research for a greater understanding of Hong Kong’s marine reef fish and wildlife
  • Empower and mobilize citizen scientists to join in the work of education and conservation
  • Contribute to Hong Kong’s fulfilment of the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan

INTRODUCTION

Since July 2016, 114˚E Survey has embarked on a continuous survey of Hong Kong's reef fish, with the ultimate aim of creating a database that is publicly accessible and that engages members of the local diving community. Previous to the official commencement, two years of trial surveys were conducted from 2014 to 2016 to test out methodologies.

After decades of overexploitation, Hong Kong's reef and marine environment has become increasingly strained. With historically high fishing pressures, habitat destruction and degradation, uninformed fish release activities and a general lack of understanding of the state of our marine ecosystem, our reefs are facing growing challenges to survival. Most importantly, documentation and status on local reef fish species is scarce, so we may not even know what we are losing.

114˚E Survey aims to reinvigorate the interest for Hong Kong's marine life among Hong Kong people, and to fill gaps in the existing knowledge of local reef fishes. Information collected include species diversity, qualitative abundance, and distribution. Once collected, the data could ultimately be used to gain a better understanding in the long-term changes in local reef fish presence, changes in species dominance, prevalence of alien and invasive species, important sites for reef fish diversity, and the local reef ecology in general. The long-term and reliable data can also be used to inform future conservation actions, environmental impact assessments, species conservation assessments and other academic and scientific research.

This web-portal is a crucial tool to share the information gathered from research. It is also a platform for recreational divers of all backgrounds to share their findings through uploading photographs of reef fishes taken from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's economy and livelihoods were once largely supported by the rich marine resources that filled the waters in abundance. The seas played a vital role in not only food and trade, but also in local culture and religion. It is hoped that through this project, citizens will learn more about fishes in their natural environments (and not just in restaurants), and be reminded of the irreplaceable value of Hong Kong's natural marine environment.

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BACKGROUND

A BRIEF HISTORY OF REEF FISHES AND THEIR RESEARCH IN HONG KONG

Hong Kong’s long coastline provides vital habitats, such as rocky reefs and coral areas, which make possible for a great abundance and diversity of reef fishes. It was said that Hong Kong’s waters alone carry a diversity comparable to the entire Caribbean Sea. Local research in this area, however, was limited.

The first underwater survey on reef fish to establish baseline information was published in as recently as 2000, by The University of Hong Kong. The survey counted more than 300 species of reef fishes, and predicted many more to be discovered.

In that same year, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department of the Government of Hong Kong SAR (AFCD) took up the coordinating role of the Hong Kong Reef Check, which aims to conduct quick health checks on the reef ecosystem. Since then it has become an annual event, collecting basic ecological information in over 30 specified dive sites . Data of reef fishes collected this are restricted to selected indicator reef fish species. It is known that more projects of similar nature have emerged in recent years, namely the Reef Fish Amazing Race held by the Education Resources Centre (ERC) and the Big Fish Count held by the WWF-HK.

All known and previously recorded reef fish are documented in the Hong Kong Marine Fish Database maintained by AFCD along with other marine fishes (such as pelagic species). In total, the database currently contains over 1,000 marine species. Despite this large existing database, a very recent local reef fish diversity study brought at least 14 new reef fish species records, and quite a number of them are recorded in locations not normally researched or visited by divers .

These findings bring two important messages: firstly, that scientific studies of reef fishes (and generally for marine fishes) in Hong Kong have great potential, and demand for expansion in time spent, man-power, and coverage; and secondly, that an immense wealth of knowledge of reef fish diversity await discovery and proper documentation.

The 114˚E Survey was set up in 2014 to continue research into Hong Kong’s reef fishes, including their diversity and geographical distribution. It is designed to complement existing databases while also ensuring accessibility to all audiences.

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CITIZEN SCIENCE

The involvement of non-experts within the general public in scientific studies is termed "citizen science". Citizen science is not a new concept, and its beginning might date back to the annual Christmas bird count by the National Audubon Society in the early 1900s. Citizen science tries to harness the untapped potential of non-scientists, hence significantly increasing the scale and public impact of the coordinated research. The result of adopting the citizen science concept to initiate crowd-sourcing is widely used, and is proven successful in many cases for engaging a larger supporter base in the collection of information at scales otherwise impossible for researchers to undertake.

With proper mobilization and co-ordination, Hong Kong's citizens can be a key force in establishing a highly comprehensive reef fish dataset for Hong Kong's waters, fundamental to long-term fish resource monitoring, supplementing fish diversity data in environmental impact assessments (EIA) and marine spatial planning work. More importantly, by establishing a means of continuous engagement with citizens and citizen science can effectively build capacity in local dive communities, while raising awareness for marine conservation topics.

The 114˚E Survey is concerned with extensive coverage and continuity of the research. The involvement of citizen scientists is extremely valuable, allowing a far more extensive coverage of sites with the help of volunteers.

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METHODOLOGY

SURVEY TECHNIQUE

Findings that are considered rare or potentially new to Hong Kong records require photographic evidence for verification.
  • Single (1 individual encountered),
  • Few (2 to 10),
  • Many (11 to 100) and
  • Abundant (more than 100 individuals encountered).

The survey adopts the Roving Diver Technique (RDT), in which divers survey a selected dive site freely without any fixed transect. The advantage of this method is that different groups of divers will cover different areas and depths of the site, resulting in a more inclusive survey and maximizing potential for diversity of species encountered.

After each dive, species data is recorded according to four qualitative abundance categories. These are:


SITE SELECTION

Many factors are considered before selecting a dive site for each day of the survey. Weather and underwater conditions are the most important considerations to ensure safe diving. Advice from the boat captain and other recreational divers for underwater visibility, and reports of interesting findings at specific dive sites, are also considered.

We aim to cover as many dive sites as possible with our surveys. If you know about a dive site that is not currently covered by our project, please contact us to let us know!