Issue No 10: August 2005
Total of $60m funding announced for public policy research
Q&A: PIs taking leave exceeding 183 days
Visit to Lingnan University
Oxygen-scarce oceans threaten fish survival
Natural anti-fouling compounds found in study of coral and sponges
Shellfish used as a fish farm biofilter
World's largest child bilingualism database helps linguistics research
Morpheme awareness clue to Chinese language ability
Ancient language links to modern Chinese

Barnacles, mussels and other shellfish are being used by Hong Kong researchers in an innovative way; as a biofiltering system to clean up fish farms.
The shellfish are usually regarded by sailors as a nuisance as they form thick growth on the hulls of ships and impede speed and fuel efficiency.
An artificial reef being lowered into position (above); build-up of barnacle growth (right)
An important characteristic of the shellfish being used by the researchers, however, is that they are filter feeders, feeding on bacteria and nutrients found in the sea.
Three years ago the City University of Hong Kong researchers began a study to determine how effective the shellfish would be in disposing of debris such as feed waste and fish excreta produced at fish farms.
Nutrients from the debris, mainly carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, can cause significant marine pollution.
In the research, artificial reefs, with a total surface area of 4,000 square metres for the shellfish to grow on, were constructed and introduced into a fish culture zone off Kau Sai Chau, near Sai Kung.
With growth on the biofilter well established, it was calculated that its filtering creatures removed an average of 6.4 kg of carbon, 1.7 kg of nitrogen, and 0.3 kg of phosphorus a day from the fish farm. For the nitrogen count, it was the equivalent of that produced by two tonnes of fish a year.
“We couldn
t clean up Victoria Harbour with this method,” said Principal Investigator Prof Paul K S Shin, “but, as a localised biofiltering system, it has proved very effective.”
The most efficient filtering shellfish were found to be barnacles and edible green-lipped mussels.
Part of the research looked at whether it would be commercially viable to harvest green-lipped mussels from the biofiltering reef, reaping a double-edged benefit by combining the mussel
s culture and filtering capacity.
“Because the mussels are relatively inexpensive, it
s unlikely that growing them this way would be attractive to fishermen. We may try oysters and scallops which sell at a higher price,” said Dr Shin.
In all, about 200 strands of rope with mussel colonies were hung on the outside of the biofiltering reef blocks for easy access.
The reef comprised 16 blocks of a honeycomb structure made from cement and glass fibre.
A large tank at the fish farm and a small tank at the biofilter were set up to measure the filtration rate.
Water from the large tank of unfiltered fish farm waste was pumped continuously to the small tank containing a 10 cm by 10 cm plate encrusted with the filter feeders.
The concentration of nutrient particulates was compared. “By measuring the depletion of particulates in the small tank, we knew the filtration rate of the filter feeders,” said Dr Shin, “because the depletion could only be caused by animals on the plate.”
One precaution taken in the experiment was to determine the source of the raw nutrients being measured as they could have come from outside the fish farm.
For this, a stable isotope technique was used and confirmed that most came from the fish farm.
Analysis showed that 68 percent of nutrients came from phytoplankton, 28 percent from trash fish, and 4 percent from excrement.
The filter feeders solve the pollution problem in two ways, explained Dr Shin.
As well as digesting particles of feed waste and fish excreta they also consume phytoplankton which thrives on inorganic nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen.
With more nutrients, phytoplankton can form algal bloom or “red tides,” he said, some of which can become toxic.
Research into the biofilter system was funded by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
The filtering artificial reef system has high application potential in the Asia-Pacific region, said Dr Shin.

Principal Investigator
Dr Paul K S Shin :