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Shark Tourism in Cebu

Field Research  


Whale shark tourism in Tan-awan, Oslob, Philippines, has led to the degradation of the local coral reef ecosystem, according to a research project at the tourist hotspot, led by HKU’s Coral Biogeochemistry Lab.

The research is a joint project with the University of Guam and the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines. Each year, more than half-a-million tourists flock to the seaside town, attracted by the year-round sighting of whale sharks. The sharks are maintained and fed by the local tourism association with up to 50 tons of shrimp annually.

The study is the first to investigate the impact of “intense provisioning” and tourism activity on the reef ecosystem. The research team urges the local authorities to mitigate the problems and risks associated with rapid tourism development.

Dr Louise Ashton. Photo: Peter Davis

Termites help Rainforests

Field Research 


A major new study, showing that termites help mitigate against the effects of drought in tropical rain forests, was published on the cover of Science Magazine, the authoritative US-based multidisciplinary research journal, in January 2019.

Dr Louise Ashton of HKU’s School of Biological Sciences, is one of the lead researchers, along with researchers from the University of Liverpool, the Natural History Museum in London, and the University of Western Australia.

“Most people think that termites are a pest that can damage homes and crops. But we have shown that termites are essential in buffering the negative effects of drought in tropical rainforests,” Dr Ashton said.

Termites are abundant in tropical ecosystems, and are among the few living creatures that can break down cellulose found in plant material. Research findings show that they create temporary above-ground protective structures called “sheeting” which allows them to move about in the forest even during droughts.

Dr Ashton and fellow researchers worked in tropical rainforest in Malaysian Borneo, with a team of Malaysian research assistants who conducted regular field expeditions.