Hong Kong hatches plan for oyster habitats

Image: Toan Chu on Unsplash

Restoration of the natural habitat for oysters is one of the aims of a new research unit that opens in Hong Kong in July.

Oysters have been an important commodity in Hong Kong for more than 700 years, and while serving as a tasty and highly nutritious food source, they also clean and enrich seawater. Their reefs provide habitat and nursery grounds for many native species that would otherwise be lost altogether.

In recent years, oyster cultivation around Hong Kong has been severely hindered by a number of factors, including coastal modification, the seasonal shift in temperature and salinity due to climate change, pollution and emerging pathogens. This not only leads to huge summer and winter mortality of oysters - up to 80% - but has also affected the livelihoods of thousands of growers.

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, to overcome some of these human-induced environmental constraints.

Dr Thiyagarajan Vengatesen says the hatchery is a platform for research, education and knowledge exchange.

The new Hong Kong Oyster Hatchery & Innovation Research Unit includes an oyster hatchery, and will to develop innovative technology to maintain the natural resources oysters depend on in a partnership between growers, industry and the University of Hong Kong (HKU).

The project received US$672,600 funding from the Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund of the Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department, and US$382,000 from Lee Kum Kee Company. A research-scale oyster hatchery will be set up at HKU campus, using novel hatchery technologies to enhance oyster seed production.

“We hope that this oyster hatchery will foster interdisciplinary research to modernise the green, carbon-neutral oyster aquaculture industry."

Thiyagarajan Vengatesen, Hong Kong University

The final stage of seed production will take place at the SWIMS laboratory in the Cape D’Aguilar marine reserve, where the seeds will be maintained and monitored for a few weeks before being supplied to local growers. The researchers say building these innovative tools will help local growers and government authorities modernise the oyster aquaculture industry, particularly in South China and Hong Kong.

Wing Kuen Chow, senior fisheries officer aquaculture fisheries of the AFCD said, “The 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.”

Dr Thiyagarajan Vengatesen of HKU School of Biological Sciences and the Swire Institute of Marine Science said, “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.”