“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.
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.
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.
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.