Problems and prospects of revitalising marine pearl cultivation in highly urbanised coasts: A case study of Tolo Harbour in Hong Kong

Wa-Tat YAN*, Chi-Pang LAU, Kenneth M.Y. LEUNG, Stephen N.G. DAVIES

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Pearl farming is part of Hong Kong’s maritime heritage. Its history in the territory can be traced back irregularly for over a millennium, focussed on what was then known as the Tai Po Sea ( now Tolo Harbour (Tolo Gang()). For a short period in the 10th century AD Southern Han (, during the turbulent Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (), the pearl farming became a tightly guarded Imperial monopoly. Thereafter the detail is uncertain but pearl fishing would seem to have continued, if not on a large scale, until the British annexation of the New Territories in 1898, although the centre of gravity, focussed on edible oysters, had moved to Deep Bay. An attempt was made to begin a cultivated pearl industry in Tolo Harbour in the 1960s but it failed. In this paper we seek to reconstruct the history of that episode and reveal the reasons why the ventures failed based on interviews with participants, newspaper clippings, government records and records kept by the Hong Kong Heritage Project. Despite government support, key failings were an inability to find the way to cultivate oysters in Hong Kong and a deficiency of wild pearl oysters available for grafting. Based on this historical lesson, the feasibility of revitalizing the pearl cultivation industry in highly urbanised coastal cities like Hong Kong, including improvements to water quality via biofiltration, are evaluated and discussed. Some recommendations are made for enabling the industry to be viable and sustainable.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100756
Number of pages16
JournalRegional Studies in Marine Science
Early online date23 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to express our thanks to Miss Law Wai King (director of Hongkong Kowloon Workers’ Mutual Benevolent Corporation Ltd.), Mr. Arthur and David Wong, the father and son of Fukui Shell Nucleus Factory, Mr. Ng Chiu Kwong who is the son of Mr Ng Kam Fook, the cultivator at Fung Wong Wat in 1970s, Mr. Edmund Ip who tried to cultivate pearl oysters in Hong Kong in 1999, Mr. Ho Pak Tao of Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Co., Ltd. who assisted Chow Tai Fook in pearl farming in the 1950s, Dr. Derek Bromhall, the person who was responsible for the Pearl Culture Research Station at Kat O in the 1960s for providing useful information in this research We would also like to show our gratitude to the staff of the Hong Kong Heritage Project, Antiquities and Monuments Office, Public Record Office and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region for their assistance to locate the relevant information and Ronia Sham for helping to prepare the maps. Lastly, we would also like to thank Selina Yan and Tsoi Lam Yan for proofreading early drafts of the manuscript.


  • Pearl farming
  • Mariculture
  • Sustainable fisheries
  • Biofiltration


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