New Species Named After Hong Kong

Introducing Hoilungia hongkongensis a Placozoan. What’s a placozoan? Literally it means “flat animal” and these animals represent one of the simplest multicellular life forms known. And up until this year the entire phylum (major branch of the tree of life) of Placozoans had only 1 species: Trichoplax adharens! That would be like saying that the sum of all known vertebrates was just one species.

But a team of scientists have now added Hoilungia hongkongensis making it 2!

Hoilungia – meaning sea dragon – was isolated from HK and therefore honoured with the species name hongkongensis. Don’t rush to go looking for this 1 mm across flattish blob though. Placozoans are utterly featureless and have only 5-6 different cell types – one of which is the epithelial cell which has little beating hairs that propel the animal across the sediment (slooowly) where it feeds like an amoeba by engulfing detritus. Like other featureless or cryptic species this one was identified and separated from others by genetic analysis alone. Basically there is nothing to look at.

Featured image: Bernd Schierwater (cc by 4.0)

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Three Green Turtles Returned to Sea

The AFCD released three green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the southern waters of Hong Kong on July 27.

One of the turtles was seized by the AFCD in an operation, while the other two were rescued in the waters near Sha Tau Kok and Siu Sai Wan, respectively. The three green turtles were accommodated temporarily at Ocean Park where they were assessed by veterinarians and kept under constant monitoring and veterinary care.

Photo shows one of the green turtles, earlier rescued in the waters near Siu Sai Wan, being released to the sea. (Photo from the AFCD Press Release)
Photo shows one of the green turtles, confiscated by the AFCD in an enforcement operation earlier, being released to the sea. (Photo from the AFCD Press Release)
Photo shows one of the green turtles, earlier rescued in the waters near Sha Tau Kok, being released to the sea. (Photo from the AFCD Press Release)

The three turtles released weighed 10 kg, 11 kg and 93kg respectively, and their shell lengths were 43 cm, 45 cm and 92 cm. All of them were assessed by veterinarians as being in good condition and ready to be returned to the sea.

Before the green turtles were released to the sea, the AFCD tagged each of them with a microchip and tags for future identification. Satellite transmitters were also attached to their shells. By tracking the movement and feeding grounds of green turtles in the sea, the AFCD will collect data for formulating appropriate conservation measures and share its findings with other conservation authorities for the better conservation of green turtles through concerted efforts.

If you see any sea turtles or suspected irregularities involving sea turtles you should call the AFCD via 1823.

The Betuline Cone – Conus betulinus

The betuline cone (Conus betulinus) is a large predatory and venomous cone snail, related to the textile cone.

It has a heavy shell that grows to up to 17 cm in length, and is distributed across the Indo-Pacific. The snail itself is velvet black and crawls around on a broad foot hunting worms.

In Hong Kong it occurs on sandy bottoms down to 5 m and in 1985 was still regarded common, although I haven’t ever seen a live one locally (yet!)

In contrast to the textile cone, the toxicity of the betuline cone is low. The toxins of cone shells are known collectively as conotoxins and act on the ion-channels regulating cells activities as well as on neurotransmitter functions.

State-level marine park planned in Dapeng New Area

Dapeng New Area – just across Mirs Bay from Hong Kong – is planning to build a national marine park according to the Shenzhen Daily newspaper. The aim is to “create the first coral-themed marine ecological system in the country”, by which I think is meant the first man-made coral ecosystem in China.

Dapeng will install artificial reefs to connect the coral reef communities in Da’ao Bay with those in the Tung Ping Chau area of Hong Kong, in the hope of providing a good marine ecological environment

Dapeng New Area has commissioned marine protection organizations to install 68 artificial reefs and plant more than 13,000 coral seedlings in the sea area in recent years.

The new area said it will draw on the experience of Hong Kong’s marine parks and adopt tough protective measures to provide a good environment for the reproduction and growth of the coral reefs.

By joining hands with the Hong Kong Underwater Association they want to establish the first diving research base on the mainland to improve awareness of marine environmental protection and encourage NGOs to participate in coral conservation.

Currently there are 39 diving organizations in the new area.

Over the past two years, volunteers have completed 12 cleaning operations and salvaged more than 448 kg of marine waste, including fishing nets, fishing cages and plastic bags.

Update to the Rays of Hong Kong List

Sharpnose Stingray (Maculabatis gerrardi)

Image Hamid Badar Osmany, reproduced under cc-by-da 3.0

Up to 2 m long, lives down to about 50 m in over sandy or muddy ground.

Bennett’s Stingray (Hemitrygon bennetti)

Image by A. Biju Kumar, reproduced under cc-by-sa 3.0

Maximum width 50 cm. Occurs down to 50 m depth.

Pale-edged Stingray (Telatrygon zugei)

Image by BEDO (Thailand), reproduced under cc-by-sa 3.0

Up to 29 cm wide, lives over sandy ground down to 100 m

The Starfish of Hong Kong, Part 5

Pentaceraster chinensis (no English common name)

Pentaceraster regulus – a relative of P. chinensis. Image by Bernard Dupont cc-by-4.0

A tropical starfish know from several locations including Hainan.

Luzon Sea Star (Echinaster luzonicus)

Echinaster luzonicus from Pulau Tioman (Malaysia)
Author Ron Yeo, cc-by-nc-sa.

The Luzon sea star is prone to shed its arms, which then regenerate into new individuals. It is normally six-armed but often quite asymmetrical in appearance, because of it has a habit of shedding arms. Its colouring ranges from red to dark brown. It is found in the tropical and sub-tropical western Indo-Pacific region, ranging from Madagascar and the east coast of Africa to Northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is found on both reef crests and in the intertidal zone where it feeds on bacterial and algal films that it extracts from the sediment. By shedding its arms for regeneration the species can reproduce asexually. The shed arm regenerates, growing a new disc and further arms.  Up to 65 cm in diameter.

The Starfish of Hong Kong, Part 4

Eight-armed Luidia sea star (Luidia maculata)

Luidia maculata (Seven armed starfish) taken in Ras Sedr,Egypt in 2012 by لا روسا (cc-by-sa 4.0).

The diameter with arms is 12 – 20cm and it has  5 – 9, but normally 8 arms. The arms are long, rounded and tapered to a sharp tip. The tips bear small sharp spines on the sides. The underside is pale and the grooves along the arms bear large tube feet with club-like, pointy tips. The colours and patterns on the top side are variable from greyish blue, to brown and beige, but normally have a darker star-shaped pattern in the middle, and dark irregular bars running along the arms. It ranges from SE Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, Maldive area, Ceylon, Bay of Bengal, East Indies, north Australia, Philippine, China and south Japan. Occurs inshore at depth from 0-134 m. Observations in Hong Kong include near Kau Sai Chai in Sai Kung and near Port island. It burrows in soft sediments and eats small invertebrates including other starfish.

Astropecten monacanthus

image directly linked from the website: Echinoderms of the Gulf of Eilat (Aqaba)

Distributed in SE Arabia, Maldive area, Ceylon, Bay of Bengal, East Indies, norh Australia, Philippine, China and south Japan. Lives inshore in tropical, Indo-west Pacific Ocean waters at depths from 0 – 50 m. Observed in Hong Kong from Tai Long Sai Wan, in sand substrate.