Director's Message 

Welcome to what will become a regular series of SWIMS newsletters highlighting events at SWIMS during the year.  This is the first issue as we begin planning for our return to the newly expanded SWIMS facility in late 2020.

The newsletter highlights new events, exciting findings and general updates about life and research at SWIMS.  Although we are currently mostly based at HKU campus, life and research at SWIMS continues full steam ahead – especially as our numbers grow.  As you can see from the image attached, the expansion is now in full flow and we have begun excavations for the footings of the new platform and plans are on schedule to return back at the end of 2020.

Finally, congratulations to our staff members and resident caretakers, Simon and Ping who were awarded long service awards this year having been in HKU for 25 years! 

Prof. Gray A. Williams

Biodiversity Map 

Vincent Gu and Gray's team launched a new on-line marine biodiversity map of Hong Kong based on the database developed from ECF funding in 2014 led by Dr Terence Ng. 

New Grants

Excellent news for SWIMS as it has received several big grants amounting to >17 Million HKD from Hong Kong’s Research Grant Council (RGC), Environmental Conservation Fund (ECF) and Sustainable Fishery Development Fund (SFDF)

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Gray and Tommy Hui won an ECF grant of >HK$2.6 Million to conduct a baseline evaluation of Hong Kong’s rocky shore biodiversity – they are currently hiring a team of Research Assistants.

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Stefano and Christelle won an ECF grant of >HK$1.6 Million for monitoring the amount and composition of macro- and microplastic in a biodiversity reservoir - the mangrove forests of Hong Kong.

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Bayden and his team won an ECF grant of >HK$1.8 Million to continue their oyster restoration and biodiversity research with The Nature Conservancy.

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Dave and a team of SWIMS PIs (Bayden, Gray and Moriaki) won a RGC Collaborative Research Fund of >HK$5.3 Million to continue their work in MarineGEO – specifically, they are going to work on the topic “What lies beneath: Human and environmental health risk factors in our ocean - an experimental application of MarineGEO-Hong Kong”.

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Rajan’s oyster group won a SFDF grant of >HK$5.3 Million to set up Hong Kong oyster hatchery for 1) ocean acidification and aquaculture research, 2) knowledge exchange (KE) with oyster growers and industries, and 3) entrepreneurship education.

Ocean Research Alliance

SWIMS researchers led by Kenny along with medical, engineering and social science, faculty members have started a new research group within HKU, named as “The Ocean Research Alliance”, to boost interdisciplinary marine science research.

Overseas Visits by SWIMers

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Bayden received a Universitas 21 Fellowship to work at The University of British Columbia with Prof. Chris Harley and Dr. Katie Marshall on a collaborative project with Dr. Ben Harvey (University of Tsukuba, Japan; on left in photo) to study the effects of marine heatwaves on marine biodiversity on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. More information and publications to come soon!

In January, Gray visited long term collaborator Dr. Richard Greenfield, University of Johannesburg, to conduct fieldwork on the Western Cape, South Africa, into the ecophysiology of intertidal limpets with their co-supervised student, Liam Connell

Student Graduations and Staff Achievements

Congratulations to:

Alessia Carini received an international research grant from Conchologists of America (COA) Society to study regulatory mechanisms of bivalve biomineralization.

Jay Minuti completed her PhD in the Marine Futures Laboratory with Bayden and is now doing a post-doc at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Alicia Tan who completed her PhD and has taken up a position at Labway Biotechnology, to develop sustainable tropical sea cucumber farming in Hong Kong.

Kanmani Rajan won the award in HKU Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition 2020. She received the most ‘LIKE’ votes on YouTube and got the “The Online People’s Choice Award”.

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Rajan has been appointed as one of the editorial Advisory Board members of the prestigious journal, Global Change Biology.

Publication Highlights

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Abrupt Sea-Level Event

Based on historical evidence and planetological records, Moriaki’s group has discovered robust evidence of an abrupt sea-level event known as the Melt Water Pulse.  If similar sea-level change happens due to a future global warming, it will seriously affect low-lying coastal cities including Hong Kong.  Moriaki’s work has been published in Quaternary Science Reviews.

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Critically Endangered European Eel 


A surprise find in HK’s supermarkets - the European eel!   SWIMS’s scientists (Yvonne and Dave’s teams) recorded the critically endangered European eel (Anguilla anguilla) in supermarkets of Hong Kong and discussed the effectiveness of the enforcement of international CITES trade regulations for international trade in Hong Kong.

Response of fishes to Heatwaves

Celia and a team of international scientists conducted a study attempting to understand the molecular response of five fish species to the 2016 heatwave conditions that killed a third of the Great Barrier Reef corals. This is the world’s first study tracking how wild fish populations respond to a severe marine heatwaves. The results of the study were published in the journal Science Advances.

Declining Ocean Biodiversity in the tropics  

Moriaki and his international team of collaborators have shown, based on fossil records, that tropical ocean biodiversity is declining, and they have also used the past records to build ecological models for projecting global marine biodiversity in the near future. The results are recently published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America”.

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Sea-Level Rise and Mangroves

Nicole co-authored two new papers that have received substantial media attention.  The first, published in Science, examines thresholds of mangrove survival to sea-level rise. The second, published in npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, used an expert survey to estimate global mean sea-level rise by 2100 and 2300.

New SWIMers

Coskun Guclu

A new member of JD’s team, Coskun was recently awarded the HKPF scholarship to develop his PhD studies at HKU. Coskun just finished his MSc in Conservation at the University College of London working on ecological restoration and management of freshwater ecosystems in UK.

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Howard Yu

Howard Yu recently joined Nicole’s group.  Howard's PhD work will focus on generating high-resolution records of sea-level change to extend tide gauge records and inform mechanisms of sea-level change in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area. Howard recently finished an MSc in Earth Science at University College London, UK.

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Li Yang

Li Yang has joined Rajan’s group to work on the 2019 GRF grant investigating biomineralization and crystal orientation rotating oyster shell proteins.  Li Yang is coming from Qingdao Ocean University with aquaculture training. Welcome Li Yang!

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Benjamin Chiu

Welcome to Benjamin Chiu who joined Gray’s group to work on the 2019 GRF grant investigating the thermal physiology of intertidal bivalves and littorinids.  Ben is currently working on the ‘behaviour’ of the common rock oyster Saccostrea.

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Yuanqiu He

The first Robert Whyte Memorial Postgraduate Fellowship was awarded to the newest member of JD’s team.  Hester just finished her Master in Marine Biology at the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and will develop her PhD at HKU exploring mechanisms of physiological/genetic adaptation of microorganisms in extreme environments.