Andy Cornish's Blog

Dr Andy Cornish was raised in Hong Kong, and gained a strong interest in wildlife through spending time in Pokfulam Country Park. He studied Zoology at Nottingham University in England, travelled extensively through Central America where he learnt to scuba dive, and later did his PhD on reef fishes at the University of Hong Kong. Since then, he worked for a year doing coral reef management for the government of American Samoa, and taught in the Dept. of Ecology and Biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong. He worked at WWF from 2005 to late 2012 as Conservation Director, and was responsible for four programmes: Climate, Footprint, Local Biodiversity and Regional Wetlands (including management of the Mai Po Nature Reserve). He remains involved in environmental issues on an independent basis.

Stingray or guitarfish?

An unusual find in Sai Kung
April 15, 2013

In the late 1990’s when I was working on the field-guide Reef Fishes of Hong Kong, I spent a lot of time searching through wet markets and fisher’s catches looking for unusual fishes to include in the book. I havn’t had much time to indulge in this particular passion in the last decade but I still keep an eye out when I’m near the sea and over the weekend found myself in Sai Kung town so decided to have a good scan through the skiffs selling their wares to visitors around the piers.
Some of the boats are simply operating as little rent-free retail outlets and sell imported wild-caught and farmed fish, shrimps, lobsters and the like but some are genuine fishers selling the day’s catch from local waters. It’s not always easy to tell which is which, but those that include small, miscellaneous species including rabbitfish and rockfish are almost certainly local. The diversity of species wasn’t bad and a few boxfish and even a rare porcupinefish caught my eye.
Nothing really unusual though until I spotted a small ray hiding at the base of a container. It was hard to see clearly and the drab brown colouration is typical of many rays but a distinctive crucifix-shaped row of yellow spots along the dorsal surface marked it as a species I’ve never seen before. I purchased it live for the princely sum of $40 after clarifying that I didn’t want the cleaver anywhere near it, took a few pictures and released it from the end of the pier.
Research when I got home revealed it to be something quite special – a species of guitarfish called a Yellow-spotted fanray. Guitarfishes are very rare in HK, and there only seems to be one previous local record. It was the same species and caught in the late 1990’s but mis-identified as it wasn’t until 2011 that Japanese researchers revealed that what people had been calling the Fanray (Platyrhina sinensis) was actually three distinct species including the Yellow-spotted fanray (Platyrhina tangi).
Nobody is keeping a current running total but more that 1,000 species of marine fish have been recorded in HK waters since the late 1800’s and I’ve found a few more since the Reef Fishes book was published in 2000. Hong Kong has a very rich diversity despite it’s tiny size and I can’t wait so see how the catches of the small scale fishers improve in years to come as fish communities recover following the trawl ban – both in the size of fishes and the species composition.
It was a good day for spotting unusual fishes as earlier in the day I’d been poking around in a small estuary at Tai Long Wan and seen my second ever Dusky sleeper in about 3 cm of water (pictured), mimicking a small tree branch. Also a species of goby that’s new to me but that I couldn’t catch with my hands. I’ll be back to see if that turns out to be something special too!



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