Tuen Mun, Hong Kong
Lung Kwu Tan: Tuen Mun, Hong Kong © Kane Hung

Stories in Hong Kong

Restoring Hong Kong’s Lost Shellfish Reefs

Why are oysters important to Hong Kong’s ecology and food culture? Oyster farming has over 700 years of history in Hong Kong, and oysters are a natural solution to water pollution.

For more than 700 years, oysters have been an important commodity in Hong Kong—unsurprising given Hong Kong people’s love for seafood. Often overlooked as a crucial marine habitat, oysters are also ecosystem engineers that play a tremendous role in coastal protection and support marine ecosystems wherever they thrive.

Decades of commercial dredging for lime, coastal reclamation and over-harvesting have decimated the oyster populations along with the long list of benefits they provide. Oyster reefs are the most endangered marine habitat on the planet with an estimated 85 percent global loss. To make things worse, the past few decades also witnessed a steep decline in oyster farming bringing the 700-year-old heritage to its knees.

With support from J.P. Morgan and in partnership with the Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) of The University of Hong Kong, and drawing from our expertise in restoring oyster reefs at more than 150 sites around the world, we have embarked on Hong Kong’s first study of the local ecological benefits of oysters.

Staff and partners build an artificial oyster reef in Hong Kong.
Oyster restoration Staff and partners install an artificial oyster reef in Lau Fau Shan, Hong Kong. © Kyle Obermann

Our work focuses on two areas:

Ecological impact: Understanding how oyster reefs can impact their ocean environment, especially for cleaning water and producing more fish in our project site in western Hong Kong, we can evaluate oyster restoration potential on producing more fish. If these fish species are a part of the Chinese white dolphin or finless porpoise diet, that could be a promising sign of the ecosystem’s recovery.

Aquaculture impact: Engaging the aquaculture industry in Lau Fau Shan: We want to understand the social, economic and other factors that play a role in the success of the oyster industry and how our studies can help revive community livelihoods.

If you want to know more about or support this program, please visit tnc.org.hk or contact us at hkengage@tnc.org.