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This article comes from the frontline activities of the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong, whose mission it is to advocate, facilitate and participate in effective conservation of Asian wildlife, with an emphasis on Chinese white dolphins and giant pandas. 

Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong (OPCFHK) has announced the details of its 2020-21 Conservation Funding Projects, pledging over HK$3.43 million to support 13 new studies. 

The selected projects involve more than 30 species with urgent conservation needs in eight Asian countries and regions, all of which focus on marine conservation and combating illegal trading of threatened species. Hong Kong-led projects include a first-of-its-kind computer program for automated facial recognition of the humphead wrasse, and genetic-based research of dried tokay geckos.

Michael Boos, Foundation Director of OPCFHK, says, “Illegal wildlife trade continues to be one of the most significant threats to biodiversity globally, and this is even happening in Hong Kong at our very own doorstep. In particular, some threatened wildlife species are considered to have edible and medicinal values in the city. Given the urgency of conservation efforts, it is critical that OPCFHK supports research studies which contribute to the effective combat of illegal trading and that also have measurable conservation outcomes.”

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The foundation says that conservation efforts can be misdirected if no solid evidence can be provided about a traded species’ place of origin. A new Hong Kong-led study will be conducted to combat the illegal trading of humphead wrasses. The research proposes developing a computer program for automated facial recognition of the humphead wrasse, which can later be tested in Hong Kong’s local seafood markets and eventually be adopted by local government departments and other countries for illegal trading regulation enforcement.

Another local project proposes genetic-based research to determine the geographic origin of dried tokay geckos sold in traditional Chinese medicine markets, which can improve the current genetic diversity of the species in Asia.

Dr Timothy Bonebrake, says, “Tokay geckos are frequently observed in Hong Kong’s markets, dried flat on sticks and used in soups to prevent lung problems. The vast numbers seen might lead one to believe that tokay geckos are an infinite resource. In reality, reports indicate that millions of tokay geckos are traded every year, to the point where the species was added to Annex II of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in 2019 to prevent further endangerment. OPCFHK’s funding will help us conduct the research required to fill in this knowledge gap, using a combination of conservation forensics tools and field work to determine the origins of market geckos and how local tokay geckos in Hong Kong are affected by this global trade.”

Finally, a regional study of Okhotsk Sea bowhead whales conducted at The Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences will shed light on the endangered species’ seasonal distribution to define a potential ‘area of conflict’ with the wider industry. This is the first systematic survey to study their population, which will make use of satellite tracking to define migratory routes and winter grounds for this remarkable marine mammal.

About the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation

The OPCFHK works to advocate, facilitate and participate in effective conservation of Asian wildlife, with an emphasis on Chinese white dolphins and giant pandas. It achieves this goal through partnerships, fundraising, research and education. Since its inception 25 years ago, the foundation has allocated over HK$90.2 million to fund 514 research projects on cetaceans, giant pandas and many other species.

Find out more about OPCFHK’s conservation research funding at: https://www.opcf.org.hk/en/conservation-research/research-funding/2020-21-projects. 

Featured image supplied by: Ocean Park Conservation Foundation

With 90% of trade being carried out at sea, freight shipping is a crucial part of the global economy. But while over 90,000 ships traverse the globe annually, they pose an environmental threat that extends far beyond the ocean.

Container ships emit large amounts of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, specifically sulphur and nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide (Co2). In fact, the shipping industry alone contributes around 2 to 3 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Were it a country, the global shipping industry would have the honour of being the sixth-highest Co2-emitter in the world, behind the United States, China, Russia, India and Japan, illustrating the gravity of the industry’s contribution to the climate crisis. In addition, accidental spills, operational discharges and the disposal of garbage from ships disrupt marine ecology. 

Such a dire threat to the environment could not have escaped the attention of the world for too long, and it didn’t. In 2008, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), in collaboration with the government of Norway, launched the “GreenVoyage-2050” project, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the shipping industry by at least 50% by 2050, focusing mainly on sea traffic in six high-priority regions – Asia, Africa, Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific.

Freight shipping companies took note. Sabrina Chao, Managing Director of the Hong Kong-based Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings, a large shipping company, says, “Over the last decade, there have been a lot of conversations in the shipping industry about what more we should be doing. Of course, everybody agrees that we want to leave a much better world for our next generations. We don’t want to be seen as polluters of the world. If you look back, we have already made great progress in reducing [the industry’s] carbon footprint. But there is a lot left to be done. That’s exactly the kind of conversation we are having at Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) and at Hong Kong Shipowners Association.”

Maersk Line, a Danish international container shipping company, has committed itself to deploying carbon-neutral vessels by 2030, as well as optimising networks. To bolster this commitment, the company has invested over US$1 billion in research and development since 2014, focusing on developing energy-efficient solutions.

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Given that a cargo ship’s lifespan is around 30 years, and the IMO target is in just over 30 years, all major shipping corporations – not just Maersk Line – should endeavour to invest in building the next generation of carbon neutral ships. Unfortunately, however, this may not be a commercially viable solution for all shipowners. The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) instead advocates using alternative fuels that would emit less pollutants. 

However, even with their hands somewhat tied with regards to limited technological options and financial viability, there are still some avenues left for the maritime industry to explore. According to IMO’s Secretary-General, Kitack Lim, ships burn 15% of their fuel while in the ports. He has therefore highlighted the crucial role that ports have in supporting the maritime industry’s thrust towards reducing its carbon footprint. Other solutions include transporting less cargo, travelling at slower speeds to burn less fuel, increasing efficiency by bundling more cargo into bigger ships while cutting down the number of smaller fleets, and using new fuel types. 

While the freight shipping industry may be reluctant to bear the cost of investing in technologies that will mitigate the damaging effects it has on the ocean, it would be wise to be cognisant of the fact that the ocean is its livelihood, and that it has the most to gain from protecting the ocean.

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