Why education is key to building a more sustainable marine ecosystem

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My love for animals started watching wildlife documentaries when I was a kid. I then studied environmental science in university and became interested in marine biology when I did my MPhil at the University of Hong Kong. It was then that I realized there was an opportunity to do more for Hong Kong.

I was very lucky to meet Mrs. Claire Nouvian when I obtained my master’s degree in 2009. At that time, Claire was creating BLOOM Hong Kong after having founded the Bloom association in France a few years before, and she hired to work to promote marine conservation. We do this primarily by focusing on research, raising awareness and trying to fill knowledge gaps. We then share our information with front-line agents, such as fisheries managers and customs officials, to help them understand the importance of their role in implementing wildlife trade regulations, and share suggestions on how to make the implementation work more efficient.

Troubled waters

Marine issues are in some ways trickier than many other environmental issues, such as air pollution or the conservation of terrestrial species, because most of what we ask people to care about is underwater. – out of sight and out of mind. In Hong Kong, many people would associate marine life only with seafood, and few people would consider it a part of nature to be enjoyed.

Although our marine life is very diverse, our waters have been overexploited for several decades. If we look at descriptions of Hong Kong’s marine life from the past, there are many commercially important species, such as sharks or groupers, which are rarely encountered today.

For example, records show that decades ago Hong Kong had such high seafood yields that it supported 90% of local demand. Areas of our waters were designated to catch sharks because they were so abundant. Our oyster reefs supplied companies with oysters grown in Hong Kong. Today, at least 90% of the seafood we eat must be imported to meet local demand, because our waters are so overfished that they can no longer support local appetites.

Despite this change, we are still a seafood-loving city – according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Hong Kong has the second highest annual consumption of seafood per capita in Asia – but consumers hardly know where their seafood comes from and which species are endangered.

Sustainability in action

There is plenty of room for improvement in Hong Kong, and more government initiatives would certainly have a huge impact. For example, the government has already banned the consumption of certain seafood, including shark fin and bluefin tuna, at official functions due to sustainability concerns. The next step could be to move towards choosing sustainable seafood just for these functions.

Refining local fisheries management policies and increasing marine protected area coverage, as well as conducting relevant research to inform these decisions, could also move the city towards greater sustainability in this area. Hong Kong is a good place to experiment with sustainable fishing practices. Since we are a small town and the scale of our fisheries today is relatively small, we could take the initiative to pioneer these practices.

On the industry side, the restaurant sector should define sourcing policies aimed at increasing the proportion of sustainable seafood in their dishes, while NGOs also have a role to play in promoting consumption more intensely. of sustainable seafood to the public.

And consumers should avoid eating seafood that is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. As a general rule, if people are unsure of the species, they should choose something else with which they are more familiar.

Collective responsibility

With the marine ecosystem already fragile, the greatest threat is continued ignorance and inaction. As humans, we have been an important part of the problem, but now is the time for us to show that we can also be part of the solution. If everyone played their part, even for just one meal a day, Hong Kong would already be well on its way to making significant progress towards sustainable seafood consumption.

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