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Frequently Asked Questions



1. What is a Marine Park?

A Marine Park is similar to a Country Park but the area is predominantly in water. In general, a Marine Park is a protected area in which high biodiversity or special geological/biological features are found. A Marine Park is set aside for marine conservation, education and recreation.

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2. Why is Hoi Ha Wan designated as a Marine Park?

Hoi Ha Wan was selected as a Marine Park because it was known to contain many of the different species of hard corals and fish that have been recorded in Hong Kong waters. Even though it's a small area, it is a good representative of Hong Kong's marine biodiversity. More than 60 hard coral species and over 120 species of reef-associated fishes have been recorded at Hoi Ha Wan, as well as a wide variety of marine invertebrates such as starfish and jellyfish, further demonstrating its ecological significance.

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3. Why are fishing boats still active inside the Marine Park?

Fishing using nets is still allowed in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park for those local fishermen who have applied for a permit based on their indigenous status. Permits cannot be sold on to others and cannot be inherited by sons or daughters, so AFCD claims that gradually there will be a decline in fishing activity. Critics including WWF point out that whilst the permit system limits the number of fishers, the fishing activity itself is not controlled V permit holders can fish as often as they like and certainly much fishing occurs day and night. The permit system seems an obvious reason why the fish population and biomass remain very low in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park compared with what may be expected for a completely protected area. Large predators such as grouper and snapper are rare sightings.

Another issue is ghost nets. Fishermen often abandon their nets should they become badly snagged on corals or rocks. These nets however degrade very slowly and they still continue to catch animals such as crabs and fish for many years, hence the term ghost. WWF continues to call on AFCD to respond to the poor or absent regeneration of fish stocks following the establishment of the Marine Park in 1996.

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4. What are the 'DO's and 'DON'T's in Marine Parks?

When out enjoying nature, visitors to Marine Parks should remember not to disturb the wildlife or pollute the environment. Non-destructive activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, underwater photography, canoeing and sailing are allowed in Marine Parks, while unauthorized fishing, hunting, collecting or possessing any wild animals or plants are prohibited. For details of the visitor codes in Marine Parks, you can visit the AFCD website.

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5. What is a coral?

Corals are animals and not plants! Scientists are aware of the confusion this causes as many people think of coral reefs as 'gardens in the sea': In fact the scientific name of corals is anthozoa, which means 'flower animal' in Latin. Corals are in the phylum Cnidaria, and all animals in this phylum have distinctive stinging cells called nematocysts, or cnidae. Corals are not high up on the danger level of stings, though they can give you a little rash. Their cousins however include jellyfish, some of which have stings strong enough to kill people (e.g. the box jellyfish in Australia).

The basic unit of coral is polyp (which looks a little like a jellyfish). Living inside the clear and transparent flesh of the polyp are microscopic plants called zooxanthellae (pronounced zoo-zan-the-lay). These plants give the corals their colour, and lots of different colours there are too, as you can see from our glass-bottomed boat. The coral polyp has a very cosy relationship with its zooxanthellae: being a plant, the zooxanthellae can make sugars from sunlight and carbon dioxide (by photosynthesis). This helps to feed the coral polyp. In return the zooxanthellae receive carbon dioxide, nutrients and shelter from the polyp. It's a biological win-win situation, known technically as mutualism.

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6. What is coral bleaching?

Corals are sensitive to climate change; fluctuations in temperature and salinity will exert stress on corals and result in the expulsion of zooxanthellae, and hence colour loss. This whitening of coral is called coral bleaching. Long-term loss of zooxanthellae can cause death of the affected coral.

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7. What is plankton?

Plankton refers to all the small living things that are suspended in the water and move with the currents. It's an amazing world on a much smaller scale to our world but with huge importance for us.

Phytoplankton is the name for plant plankton. Like all plants, they can photosynthesize and produce sugars (hence food) from carbon dioxide and sunlight. Phytoplankton therefore lives in the surface waters of the seas and oceans to catch the sunlight. They are enormously important for earth because they absorb CO2, a greenhouse gas that human activities generate in excess. They also are the base of the food chain providing food for virtually all other marine animals. Zooplankton is the name of the animal plankton that feed off the phytoplankton and off other zooplankton, thus starting the food chain.

The largest fish in the world (the whale shark V although it is not a whale at all) feeds solely off plankton, which it sieves from the water by swimming through it. Many whales, including the largest blue whale, also feed off a zooplankton called krill. In the case of a blue whale, it is estimated that they consume up to 3.6 tonnes per day! So some of the largest animals that ever lived on earth feed off some of the smallest.

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8. Why artificial reefs (ARs) are deployed in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park?

Although Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park covers a sea area of 260 hectares (2.6 square kilometres), most of the corals and fish that it is renowned for live in the shallow waters that fringe the coastline. Towards the middle of the bays that make up the park, the water depth is between 13 to 18 m and the sea bottom is covered with a thick layer of mud full of organic material. Oxygen levels are generally low and little lives in these areas. In an attempt to increase the habitat for fish, AFCD launched an artificial reef (AR) programme in 1996 that involved the sinking of a number of purpose-built ships near the perimeter of the park (that's right, the ships were built specifically to be sunk as it was cheaper this way than taking old ships and then trying to clean them out of oil and toxic residues).

The shipwreck ARs served two functions: the first was to deter trawl fishing vessels from entering the park (the trawl nets would become hopelessly tangled in the AR if the boat tried to enter the park) and the second was to provide a structure raised above the muddy seabed and bathed in oxygenated water.

At the time the project was started, opinions differed as to whether the ARs increased the population of fish by providing more habitats, or whether they simply attracted existing fish. The key point being argued is whether the fish are short of space to live or whether there are too many fish caught by local fishermen and the new habitat area makes little difference. WWF is planning to build its own artificial reef under the Marine Life Centre. Once again the AR will provide a structure above the mud in the oxygenated water and it is hoped that it will become home to a good number of fish for visitors to see.

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9. Where are the big fish in Hong Kong?

Our local seas, back in the 1950s, were rich with all sorts of marine life. We have around 1,000 fish species including Sharks and Manta rays. Today these species are scant in local waters and large predator fish are hardly seen.

For decades, reclamation, pollution, dredging and overfishing have all contributed to the dreadful situation. Hong Kong is now one of the most intensively fished places in the world with some areas being trawled with heavy weighted nets several times a day. Large boats tow trawl nets over the sea bed that sweep up virtually all things in their path. But now the fish caught are undersized because they are young and there are very few mature fish around to produce the next generation. In addition, the trawl net is very destructive to the seabed, destroying or seriously disturbing the habitat. As a result of unlimited fishing, populations of many species have crashed under a barrage of threats.

Based on scientific evidence WWF believes that fish populations are on the verge of collapse. To counter this imminent problem we have proposed a solution described in our SOS campaign.

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10. Why oceanographers also concern themselves with the atmosphere?

Although primarily focused on the ocean environment, oceanographers are very keenly aware that the weather plays an important part in the dynamics of the ocean. Many life processes are dependent on temperature, and big waves generated by storms seriously affect ocean habitats in shallow waters. (A large typhoon or hurricane can cause enormous damage to a coral reef for example, though if it is healthy to begin with then it can recover over time.) The wind also influences currents and the concentration of nutrients and pollutants that can have very important effects on marine habitats.

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11. Why is the marine environment important for us?

The marine environment has a lot to offer us, now and in the future, so it is our responsibility to help protect it so that it may be enjoyed by our future generations as well.

Humans obtain a variety of resources from the marine environment, such as food (seafood, seaweed etc.), minerals (salt, pearls) and crude oil (the raw materials of different useful by-products e.g. fuel for transportation and cooking, plastics). Also, the sea provides us with a place to relax and enjoy nature (through swimming, diving, sunbathing etc.) and it is a great location for environmental education.

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12. What can individuals do to help conserve our marine and biodiversity?

We can change our personal habits for the better. Plastic bags and other waste that is not disposed of carefully often ends up in the sea where it can harm marine life (by smothering corals for example, or being eaten by mistake by turtles or dolphins). You can also support more sustainable fisheries by eating seafood on the Green list in our Seafood Guide and avoiding the seafood on the red list.

You may also consider actively support our SOS (Save Our Seas) Campaign. This has three main objectives:

  • Stop fishing in our existing Marine Parks, turning them into real sanctuaries that can truly protect marine life!
  • Operate 10% of our waters as "no-take zones", banning fishing and other disturbance, so fish stocks can recover and thrive once again!
  • Stop uncontrolled fishing, by licensing all commercial fishing boats and setting catch quotas before the ecosystem collapses!

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13. Are there websites with more about Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park?

The following sites may be helpful :
V WWF Hong Kong
V Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department
V HK Fish Net
V Hong Kong Artificial Reef Project

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