Hong Kong’s coral reefs are badly degraded because of pollution and intense human exploitation and development, which limits their ability to reproduce and recover.
As warming oceans damage coral reef ecosystems around the world, areas that are currently colder may become increasingly important as refuges to species seeking to escape rising temperatures. The coast of Southern China, including Hong Kong, is a potentially important habitat for tropical coral species that might shift their ranges north. Corals that are now present in Hong Kong and Southern China may also serve as the genetic pool for future coral expansion because of their greater tolerance to environmental stresses.
Chui will develop a technique for restoring Hong Kong’s reefs—still very biodiverse despite their condition—using sexually reproduced corals rather than coral fragments. These fragments are broken portions of a coral colony that are typically used for reef restoration. Coral populations derived from sexual reproduction are more genetically diverse and likely more adaptable to environmental changes than those created from fragments.
Chui will use gametes—eggs and sperm derived from mature coral colonies—and induce them in a laboratory to fertilize to produce young corals known as recruits. She will transplant these laboratory-grown corals onto degraded reefs and determine the optimal practices to yield the best survival rate of these recruits in Hong Kong. She also will apply a technique called recruit fusion, which combines two or more genetically distinct coral offspring into a single colony, to enhance coral resilience and growth. Using information from these experiments, she will develop an evidence-based protocol for reef recovery in Hong Kong.
Conserving corals and other species in these marginal environments for coral growth, like those in Hong Kong, would have far-reaching significance to worldwide conservation of coral reefs threatened by global climate change.
To learn more about Chui, read her bio: http://hug.hk/about-apple/