In memory of father of marine ecological conservation in HK

May 03, 2021 09:08
Professor Brian Morton contributed to the formation of Mai Po Nature Reserve. Photo: WWF-Hong Kong

I felt a deep sense of loss and sadness upon learning the passing of my PhD supervisor, Professor Brian Morton, at the age of 78 in the U.K. at the end of March.

Professor Morton was a world-renowned marine ecologist who worked diligently and maintained a serious attitude. He had taught Ecology and Biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong since the 1970s until his retirement in 2003. During the 34 years, Professor Morton had taught thousands of undergraduates, and trained 39 PhD students, I am fortunate to be one of them.

In addition to nurturing and mentoring the younger generations, Professor Morton also played a key role in marine conservation of Hong Kong. Over the years, he has contributed to the formation of Mai Po Nature Reserve, Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS), the first batch of marine parks in Hoi Ha Wan and Yan Chau Tong, as well as establishment of the Marine Biological Association of Hong Kong. Professor Morton was also a founding member of the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong (WWFHK). During the 22 years as a member of the Executive Council of WWFHK, he had inspired the harmonious integration of man and nature, which is still influential today. In the WWFHK’s eulogy, there is a mentioning: "The entire panda family remembers Brian as the joyous leader of the Birdbrains team in our annual Big Bird Race, a personality who accomplished so much and will be truly missed by us all.” The description visualizes how lively my professor had been.

In addition to Hong Kong, his research footprints were also found world-wide, including Xiamen in the Mainland, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Australia, New Zealand, the Gulf of Mexico, the United States, the U.K., Norway, and the Azores in the North Atlantic.

Professor Morton was also a painter with exquisite brushwork. Marine life is vivid in his paintings, which are comparable to photos. He used paintings to introduce different coastal ecosystems and intertidal habitats. One of his books The Sea Shore Ecology of Hong Kong is regarded as a masterpiece that can be handed on from age to age.

Professor Morton had published more than 25 books and over 600 scientific papers and reports in the 52 years with excellent academic achievements. He was invested as Knight (Ridder) in the Order of the Golden Ark, The Netherlands; and invested OBE, the U.K., and was the recipient of the Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Gold Medal at the time.

On one prominent panel in the exhibition hall at the Hoi Ha Visitor Centre, a quote by the professor is inscribed. It reads: "The preservation of our coasts and protection of our marine parks especially is a social duty we should all be proud to help with". I agree with Dr. Leung Siu-fai, Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation that remarks on Professor Morton’s contribution were far too modest. In his letter of condolence, Dr. Leung concluded that Professor was in fact "a strong leader, our staunch supporter and a close ally" in the cause of local marine ecology and conservation.

As a well-known scholar, he also cared about his students and the younger generations. I remember a few years ago, he told me that he had been reading my company's newsletter, paying attention to the development of the company.

In the bulletin board of the Malacological Society of London, there is a post with a picture of Prince Philip personally awarding the Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal to Professor Morton in 2004. Though it is sad to see the two have both passed away, the mentor's teaching by words and deeds will definitely remain in everyone's heart.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong