Airport Authority Hong Kong: Marine Ecology & Fisheries Enhancement Strategy

By Peter Lee 20 September, 2022

Lee, General Manager, Sustainability of Airport Authority Hong Kong talks to us about their marine ecology & fisheries enhancement strategy.

The MEFES is now well established and serves to enhance the marine environment, including for Chinese White Dolphins and support the fisheries industry
Pilot tests also underway to better explore the real-world value & viability of initiatives like eco-enhanced seawalls, fish restocking, coral transplantation & more
Insights are many & can be used in APAC region - initiatives are costly & resource intensive but benefits will follow; vision lies in scaling up initiatives
Peter Lee
Author: Peter Lee
Mr. Lee is the General Manager, Sustainability of Airport Authority Hong Kong. He supports, guides and advises the Authority on the formulation and implementation of long-term sustainability strategies. He also leads and manages all environmental matters related to the planning and implementation of the Expansion of the Hong Kong International Airport into a Three-runway System, which is to maintain Hong Kong as an international aviation hub at the heart of Asia Pacific region. Before joining the Authority in June 2012, Mr. Lee has over 20 years’ experience in environmental and engineering consultancy, leading and managing the EIA studies for a number of major infrastructure and urban development projects such as Kai Tak Development, Integrated Waste Management Facilities, Harbour Area Treatment Scheme Stage 2A, Deep Bay Link, and so on. Mr. Lee is a founding fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Qualified Environmental Professionals and the Secretary General of the Marine Ecology Enhancement Fund and the Fisheries Enhancement Fund.
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As part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Study, the Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) has committed to formulate and implement a Marine Ecology and Fisheries Enhancement Strategy (MEFES). The MEFES has been set up for the purpose of enhancing the marine environment for the benefit of marine ecology (including Chinese White Dolphins (CWDs)) and fisheries resources in the vicinity of the project area, in Hong Kong western waters and further afield into the Pearl River Estuary (PRE). The MEFES also functions to provide support and assistance to affected fishers, and to encourage more sustainable fishing operations.

CWR: Peter, thank you for sitting down with us. It was great to hear about the Authority Hong Kong’s (AAHK) Marine Ecology and Fisheries Enhancement Strategy (MEFES) at the recent BEC Webinar. Could you walk us through key parts of the strategy?

Peter Lee (PL): AAHK’s MEFES comprises both statutory and voluntary initiatives for enhancing marine ecology and fisheries resources, especially in waters near HKIA. MEFES consists of initiatives implemented directly by AAHK, and projects supported by the Marine Ecology Enhancement Fund (MEEF) and Fisheries Enhancement Fund (FEF). The two funds were set up in 2016 with a total funding of HK$400 million injected.

2 funds totaling HK$400mn have been set up to support projects that may enhance the marine ecology environment & support the fisheries industry

With our MEFES, we are committed to enhancing the marine environment for the benefit of marine ecology, including that of Chinese White Dolphins (CWDs). We also aim to support the fisheries industry by enhancing fisheries resources, providing support and assistance to fishing communities, as well as to encourage more sustainable fishing operations.


CWR: Now, we’d like to deep-dive into AAHK’s initiatives as well as the Marine Ecology Enhancement Fund (MEEF) and Fisheries Enhancement Fund (FEF). What criteria do projects need to meet to get funded and how are they carried out? 

PL: The two funds award grants to marine ecology and fisheries projects in accordance with clearly defined application and assessment guidelines. Projects are independently assessed by committees comprising experts, scholars and representatives from green groups and fisheries sector. Details on MEEF and FEF application and assessment criteria are explained in our dedicated web-pages.

To date, ~HK$69 mn granted to 50 wide-ranging projects…

To date, about HK$69 million has been granted from our two funds to 50 wide-ranging projects and initiatives conducted by universities, research organisations, and associations from the fisheries industry. Some of the supported ventures include research work to better quantify the conservation ecology of CWDs across the Pearl River Estuary (PRE), investigating CWDs night time activity, determining the impacts of micro-plastics on horseshoe crabs; and on the fisheries side, exploring local pearl farming as a viable alternative to traditional fishing and exploration of alternative aquaculture farming opportunities in Hong Kong waters. Details of the MEEF and FEF funded projects could be found on the funds’ web-pages.

…plus, pilot tests underway to better explore the real-world value & viability of initiatives like eco-enhanced seawalls, fish restocking & more

AAHK’s MEFES also captures marine ecology and fisheries enhancement measures that are directly funded and delivered by AAHK. AAHK researched a range of potential enhancements and undertook pilot tests to better explore the real-world value and viability of the more promising initiatives.

We have been conducting pilot tests on eco-enhanced seawalls, fish restocking, artificial reef and shellfish reef deployments as well as coral transplantation. AAHK has also been receptive to suggestions from key stakeholders on potential valuable initiatives, for example, our coral transplantation and shellfish reef pilot projects were implemented after dialogue with green NGOs.

Examples of marine ecology and fisheries enhancement measures:

Eco-Enhanced Seawalls

Artificial Reef Deployment

Fish Restocking

Shellfish Reef Deployment

Coral Transplantation

CWR: That sounds exciting. On top of minimising impacts to ecology and biodiversity, how do projects like the Artificial Reef Deployment Pilot help AAHK build green infrastructure that is ready for Hong Kong’s changing climate? Could this project be scaled up? 

PL: The design of the seawalls at HKIA have already factored in future rise in sea-level, and we also follow a green airport design strategy in our developments to build efficient, low impact, and climate resilient infrastructure. We also proactively study additional measures that we could take to enhance the marine ecology and diversity in the surrounding waters, such as those under MEFES, and namely the artificial reef and shellfish reef deployment pilot tests.

Seawall designs factor in future sea level rise and airport development is subject to a green airport design strategy

Pilot tests are a great way of working out the feasibility of the enhancement initiatives as we physically deploy them in the marine environment around the airport. The monitoring of our artificial reef pilot test has shown significantly higher abundance and coverage of mobile and colonisation species in and on the reef structures one year after deployment.

Enhancement initiatives being piloted may be scaled up if found to add ecological value

Meanwhile, our shellfish reef pilot test has shown that oysters recruit well across different depths of our seawall structure, and that recruitment and survival are adversely impacted by high sedimentation. The ongoing monitoring over time helps us better identify ways to maximise ecological enhancement and habitat complexity as we consider scaling up the project.

CWR: It’s been more than 6 years since the implementation of the MEFES – are there any insights or lessons learned that you could share to other airports in the APAC region? 

PL: Our two funds are operating smoothly and our commitment is that they continue to support a range of worthy initiatives and projects for the foreseeable future. We’re in the process of evaluating our current pilot trials and where appropriate intend to scale up the projects that demonstrate ecological benefits to tie in with designation of the North Lantau Marine Park (NLMP).

Insights are many after implementing MEFES…

…although investment is required, benefits follow and are very worthwhile

Insights and lessons are many after implementing the MEFES. While significant investment in cost, time and resources are necessary, once the commitment has been made there are multiple benefits to be realised from pursuing the various initiatives. Establishing the FEF for example has provided AAHK a meaningful opportunity to collaborate with the fishing community in Hong Kong, as in recent years the industry has been facing increasing restrictions and livelihood problems.

Projects supported by the FEF include feasibility studies into alternative ways of making a living in the industry, including pearl farming, as well as the viability of crayfish and tropical sea cucumber aquaculture in Hong Kong waters – all realistic alternatives for the sustainable development of the fishing in Hong Kong allowing diversification of fishing livelihoods for Hong Kong fishermen.

We believe our MEFES would be a useful reference for airports in the APAC region that have an operating or development footprint extending into the marine environment.

Examples of FEF projects:

Pearl Farming in HK Waters

Sustainable Aquaculture Pilot – Crayfish

CWR: To wrap, what’s your vision and hope for the AAHK’s MEFES in the short- and long-term?

PL: The vision of the MEFES is for AAHK to support initiatives to enhance the marine environment for the benefit of marine ecology and fisheries resources in Hong Kong and further afield into the PRE.

Vision lies in scaling up initiatives to benefit HK’s marine ecology

In the long-term, we will continue to manage and administer our two funds with the overarching goal being to support projects and studies that provide tangible benefits to the marine environment and fisheries resources in Hong Kong and even PRE. We will continue to ensure that the enhancement initiatives we scale up do bring tangible ecological value to the marine environment.

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