Three days in the fins of marine biologists:

exploring Hong Kong’s marine biodiversity 

Program Description

Over a three day period, students will experience different aspects of a marine research career. Students will visit two different coral reef habitats in Hong Kong and investigate how water quality affects marine biodiversity using an array of field sampling techniques.

Instructors will guide students through the scientific process including making observations in nature, generating scientific questions and hypotheses from observations, collecting specimens in the field, testing hypotheses through data collection, and summarizing and sharing their findings.

Students will be divided into two age groups (10-14 and 15-18) to tailor the experience to different learning levels. 

Students can expect to

  • Develop a scientific question and hypothesis
  • Collect water samples and analyze eight aspects of water quality
  • Observe two coral reef sites via snorkeling
  • Collect and process marine biodiversity samplers (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures; ARMS)
  • Get hands-on experience with a diversity of marine life (fish, crabs, shrimp, sponges, sea slugs, and more!)
  • Collect and analyze biodiversity data
  • Present their results to other students and scientists

Project Overview

Coral reefs are the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, yet marine biologists are still working to understand how so many organisms can coexist in the same space. In this program, students will investigate whether water quality at two different reef sites in Hong Kong is correlated with the biodiversity at those sites.

To measure biodiversity, we will use cutting-edge Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) deployed at each site. ARMS act as mini marine hotels, attracting the animals that live in these environments. Students will collect the ARMS from each site, disassemble them, and sort and identify the diversity of organisms the ARMS have attracted.

Day #1
Fieldwork: Reef Observations, Site Surveys, and Collecting Water Quality Data

Students will board a research vessel and visit two coral reef communities in Hong Kong: Bluff Island and Pak Pai. At each site, students will collect water samples from different depths and measure eight water quality parameters: temperature, salinity, pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, ammonia, and phosphate. Students will snorkel at each site to observe the reef communities, survey shallow water ecosystems using line intercept transects (LITs) and help instructors retrieve the ARMS samplers.

10-14 year olds: Following hands-on demonstrations of how we collect and process water samples from a research vessel, students will collect and analyze their own samples and record their data. Coral communities can be a lot to take in, especially for younger students seeing them for the first time. Instructions about how we make observations and look for patterns among some of the key taxonomic groups will be the emphasis of the experience for the younger students on the first day. Students will swim along a transect collecting basic benthic cover data. 

15-18 year olds: Following hands-on demonstrations of how we collect and process water samples from a research vessel, students will be in charge of collecting, sampling, storing, and analyzing water samples. Students will record water quality data for use in data analysis on Day 3. When we are in the water, students will learn how to conduct benthic LIT surveys which they will do at both coral community sites. They will also assist divers with retrieving ARMS.

Day #2
Processing Samples & Species Identification

Students will work outdoors under an overhead shelter to disassemble and process the ARMS samplers. Students will sort and learn to identify the large diversity of organisms that have colonized the ARMS. The identity and abundance of each species found at each site will be recorded and used in data analysis on Day 3.

All students: Processing ARMS is a task that can be done by both groups of students. Much of the work is identifying differences between groups of organisms and sorting them based on their visual characteristics.

10-14 year olds: Younger students will be encouraged to make observations and identify patterns. After the organisms have been roughly sorted, these students will sketch and note the differences between different species of organisms, including those that are quite similar.

15-18 year olds: Older students will take leadership roles in sorting and identifying specific taxonomic groups. For example, after all the crabs have been sorted from the other organisms, one to two students will become our designated Crab Experts and will work under instructor guidance to identify subtle differences in characteristics between crab species. Each student or pair of students will be assigned to a taxonomic group, including hermit crabs, shrimps, snails, clams, sea slugs, sponges, and more.

Day #3
Lab Work and Data Processing

Days 1 and 2 will result in water quality data, species abundance data, photos of organisms, and some small species collected and preserved. Students will work in the lab using microscopes, species keys, and ID sheets to identify any remaining organisms that could not be identified in the field. Lab work may also include additional water quality analyses. Students will be divided into groups to focus on one or two data sets. Each group will organize their assigned data, and under instructor guidance, conduct basic statistical analyses to test their hypotheses. Students will also create graphs to depict their results. Finally, each group will present their findings in short (5-10 min) presentations. 

10-14 year olds: Younger students will not conduct statistics themselves, but rather an instructor will run analyses for them and explain what the results mean. These students will focus on creating graphs and figures to present their data and work on understanding what the results of statistical analyses mean and allow them to conclude from their work.

15-18 year olds: Older or more advanced students will be more involved with running statistical analyses themselves, using the free program R. Students will be guided through the process of determining which analyses are appropriate, how to run them, and what the results mean.

Logistical Details & Fees

Ages: 10 – 13 & 14 – 17
August 6 – 8 (Fri – Sun)
9 am – 3 pm (longer field day)

Location: Hong Kong Island, Bluff Island & Pak Pai
Fee: $7,600 HKD

*The camp requires a minimum of 8 students to sign up in order to run, otherwise, your money will be refunded
**Maximum 16 students per class.

Bring Along

Day 1: onboard the research vessel

  • Bathing suit
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Rain jacket
  • 2 L water for drinking
  • Packed lunch (we can alternatively arrange a lunch on Tap Mun Island)
  • Towel
  • Change of clothes

Day 2: Outdoors, with an overhead shelter

  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Rain jacket
  • Water bottle
  • Packed lunch (we can alternatively arrange a lunch on campus)

Day 3: Indoors, at HKU

  • Laptop/tablet
  • Closed-toed shoes
  • Packed lunch

Detailed Schedule