The Story of Hong Kong's Corals

Hong Kong has a higher hard coral diversity than the Caribbean Sea!

© Yiu Wai Hong

Tolo, a lifeless harbour

Today, Tolo Harbour and Channel are located in Hong Kong’s northeastern waters. They once were home to many diverse corals, with over 80% coral coverage in Knob Reef, and over 70% coral coverage in Bush Reef, small islands in the Tolo channel. Back in the 1960-70s, when the Sha Tin and Tai Po new town development began, the new town was mainly built on the Tolo Harbour reclaimed land, mainly from the Tolo Harbour. On the one hand, increased land supply meets the needs of housing, commercial and industrial development, but on the other hand, irregular residential and industrial sewage disposal into Tolo harbour. Rapid urban development led to reclamation in these waters, devastating marine ecosystems. Nowadays, Tolo Harbour’s coral coverage has fallen to less than 2%, threatening its place as one of Hong Kong’s most important spawning and nursery grounds for the juveniles of many marine fish species.

Once destroyed, it is very difficult for coral communities to recover independently – which is why we are determined to revive the once-vibrant coral communities that support benthic biodiversity in Tolo Harbour and Channel. We aim to rescue and later replant at least 1,000 detached coral fragments in the Tolo Channel in the northeastern waters of Hong Kong.


“Through our collaboration with WWF-Hong Kong on the ‘Reviving our Corals’ initiative, we are extending the work of the Coral Academy at CUHK, particularly in terms of coral reproduction, culture and restoration in the Tolo Harbour and Channel. We hope that the transplanted corals will thrive and reproduce in the wild. While it is extremely important to restore our corals and perform long-term monitoring, the key to long-lasting success lies in the effective management and protection of existing coral communities. I sincerely hope that we can sustain our work with WWF-Hong Kong and promote coral conservation and education at the Hoi Ha Marine Life Centre, since this will help the public understand the importance of coral conservation, rethink their relationship with the ocean and drive greater participation in coral conservation activities.” 


“Even in areas that have extensive coral coverage, corals can deteriorate within a year or two, and then take three decades or longer to fully recover. We need to learn these lessons and always bear in mind that it is easy to destroy nature, but very difficult to restore it. I always tell my students that the ocean is our laboratory. I hope more people in Hong Kong have the chance to dive in our waters, witness our underwater marvels and cherish Hong Kong’s oceans.” 


“When I was a teenager, I started diving with my family in the Tolo Harbour area to earn a living. The water quality in Tolo Harbour was great back in the 1980s – it was easy to see huge numbers of coral communities under the water. Fishing resources were abundant and the income we generated supported our whole family. But in the years since then, rapid urban development and reclamation have greatly changed the marine environment. Because they were unable to fish anymore, a lot of the fishermen were forced to switch to other jobs.” 

Mr. To Chun Cheung

Fisherman in Tolo Harbour
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“Back in the day, we got everything we needed to live from nature. Villagers collected seashells and coral bones from the seashore and fired them in lime kilns. The lime we produced was taken to Aberdeen and sold, then exported for construction use. Hoi Ha was once a prosperous place due to its lime production, so you can imagine the richness of Hoi Ha Wan corals. Marine resources were plentiful in the olden days, but sadly they have been in decline for a while now. Let’s all work together to protect our ocean.”