HK deepens its marine knowledge with the support of the nation

A remotely operated underwater vehicle came out of the sea near the Xisha Islands. EVERYDAY CHINA

stronger development

Cheng and his fellow marine scientists in Hong Kong were recommended for the mainland-funded ocean expedition by the institution they work for – the Hong Kong branch of the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Guangzhou) at HKUST.

The branch, established in 2019, was co-founded by the Innovation Academy for Ecology and Environmental Engineering of the South China Sea of ​​the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Science and Technology Innovation Committee of Guangzhou and HKUST. The branch aims to strengthen the development of marine science in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and promote cross-border collaboration for Hong Kong oceanographers.

Qian Peiyuan, senior marine scientist and director of the branch, said Hong Kong could play a bigger role in the national marine economy plan and ocean governance. The city has many world-class research universities and talents, and in recent years it has paid more attention to technology and innovation, he added.

Hong Kong occupies a maritime area of ​​1,641.21 square kilometers. Known for its land shortage, the city has reclaimed 77.6 km2 from the sea over the past 130 years. It also has a world-class container port – Kwai Tsing Container Terminals – and the Port of Victoria.

However, the city is little known for its marine sciences. In the QS World University Rankings 2022, three universities in Hong Kong ranked among the top 50 in the world – University of Hong Kong, Chinese University of Hong Kong and HKUST. However, for Earth and Marine Sciences, only one of these universities was ranked 50th to 100th, while the other two were not in the top 100.

Qian, who has studied oceanography in Hong Kong for nearly 30 years, said that for historical and political reasons, the city’s marine science community pays little attention to waters beyond the city limits. and focuses primarily on marine biology in local waters, including environmental protection and pollution control.

Although marine conservation and the protection of diversity are important to Hong Kong, marine science covers a much broader spectrum, involving physics, chemistry, geography, among other subjects, Qian said.

Since Hong Kong’s return to the motherland in 1997, the city has accelerated its integration into the nation’s overall development, resulting in greater cross-border collaboration among the marine science community.

Hong Kong’s first national-level marine laboratory, the State Key Laboratory of Marine Pollution, was established at the City University of Hong Kong in 2010. A branch of the laboratory was also opened at the University of Hong Kong education in 2018.

In 2019, Cheng’s institution opened and studied the ecosystem and ecological security in the South China Sea, including the Greater Bay Area, and new technologies for exploiting biological and microbiological resources in the region. .

Over the past three years, dozens of researchers from HKUST and other local institutions have been recommended by Cheng’s institution to participate in four state-funded expeditions to the South China Sea and China Estuary. Pearl River. Such an opportunity, which occurs once a year on average, allows more Hong Kong researchers, especially the younger generation, to gain first-hand experience and insight into marine science.

Last summer, 26-year-old Frances Xiao Yao, who studies marine environmental science at HKUST, boarded a research vessel bound for the South China Sea. Before studying in Hong Kong, Xiao completed her undergraduate studies in marine science on the mainland, but has yet to participate in an ocean expedition. The trip turned out to be a revelation for the young scientist.

“Through the ROV cameras, I saw the actual deep sea environment and how samples were taken. The trip gave me a better understanding of the complexity of this environment,” she said. .

Participation in these programs provides Hong Kong oceanographers with a rare opportunity to communicate face-to-face with their counterparts on the mainland, as most cross-border exchanges over the past two years have taken place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.

Cheng said, “It was a great experience to work with and learn from researchers from different institutions. Some of them might have the chance to become our potential partners.

Qian, who is also a full professor in the Department of Ocean Science at HKUST, said greater cross-border collaboration will help Hong Kong’s marine scientists tap into the country’s best scientific resources.

It costs hundreds of millions of yuan to build an oceanographic survey vessel, which no local institution can afford, Qian said, adding that mainland institutions also have advanced equipment that cannot be afforded. are not available in Hong Kong.

After returning to the city in mid-June, Cheng sent the samples she had taken from the South China Sea to a laboratory in Beijing for genetic sequencing. Although she is still waiting for the results, she thinks they might help her continue her research.

As more and more Hong Kong scientists get involved in national programs, the local branch of the Marine Research Laboratory has strengthened cross-border collaboration by inviting more scholars from the mainland and overseas to join. his works. The branch now has a total of 98 oceanographers from Hong Kong, mainland and overseas countries as members.

The branch was established as Hong Kong’s innovative and technological ambitions were backed by strong domestic support.

In June 2017, in a joint letter to President Xi Jinping, 24 Hong Kong academicians from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering said they wanted to contribute to the country’s scientific and technological development. Xi attached great importance to their wish and gave instructions to promote scientific cooperation between the mainland and Hong Kong.