Safeguarding the horseshoe crab
– An interview with alumnus Dr Billy Kwan

The horseshoe crab, a member of the limulidae family, has a history dating back around 400 million years. However, in recent years, rapid habitat change and major pollution issues from urban development have brought a critical decline in the global population of these marine arthropods. Only around 10,000 juvenile horseshoe crabs now survive in Hong Kong waters.

One champion out to save the species and hopefully increase its numbers again is alumnus Dr Billy Kwan Kit-yue. Dr Kwan, originally from Malaysia, has been passionate about environmental matters from an early age. He first came to understand the crisis facing the horseshoe crab, and its significance to people after winning a CityU scholarship and achieving his dream to study at an overseas university. During his BSc in Environmental Science and Management, Dr Kwan got to know former CityU Professor Paul Shin Kam-shing, a renowned expert in seabed ecology and marine life, and heard about horseshoe crabs and their priceless contribution to medicine for the first time – their unique blue blood can be used to detect whether medical equipment and medications have been infected by bacteria. On learning about this, Dr Kwan decided to continue on to a PhD in Biology and Chemistry at CityU to assist in the horseshoe crab conservation.

Saving the horseshoe crab

Such work involves him in both education and research. Since 2009, Dr Kwan’s team has received funding from the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong to run horseshoe crab seminars in 30 secondary schools every year and engage students in rearing juvenile crabs. In this way, the researchers have discovered more about the invertebrates’ culture process. Meanwhile, comparative studies of wild horseshoe crabs and those bred artificially have shed light on the most appropriate conditions to release the latter into the sea and optimise their chances of survival.

“CityU is one of the pioneers in Hong Kong to undertake conservation studies on horseshoe crabs,” Dr Kwan said. “Through different types of research and experiments, we will eventually understand more about their biology and ecology. In addition, our work has inspired other education institutions to initiate horseshoe crab research that will hopefully lead to greater protection of scarce and valuable underwater lifeforms.”

Promoting greener living

Dr Kwan does not only encourage eco-friendly practices through his studies. As a CityU Residence Tutor, for example, he sought to encourage greener living among students in hostel. “On an academic exchange to Finland, I noticed that students there used many second-hand items. There were even supply rooms to help them find bed sheets, linen, and other daily necessities.” He believes local students could easily adopt a recycling mindset as well. “Practising a greener lifestyle is simple,” he pointed out. “The most direct way is to start with everyday life, for example, by limiting your use of plastic bottles, bags and other non-degradable objects.”

Future moves

To spread the word about protecting the horseshoe crab, Dr Kwan is taking up a post at Guangxi Province’s Qinzhou University, close to Beibu Gulf, an all-important horseshoe crab habitat. While there, he will pursue his conservation and research work into the fascinating creatures. “I hope to share the expertise I have gained at CityU so that people in other places can understand the importance of marine life conservation,” he said.

校友訪問 – 關傑耀博士





關博士告訴我們:「城大是全港其中一間率先進行馬蹄蟹的保育研究的大學,透過各種科研及實驗,有助我們全面了解馬蹄蟹的習性。」他並表示:「我們的保育工作亦推動了其他學院開始進行相關的保育研究, 希望藉此可以令更多珍稀海洋生物得以保護。」





Dr Billy Kwan Kit-yue
BSc in Environmental Science and Management
PhD in Biology and Chemistry

Dr Kwan studying the local habitat of horseshoe crabs in Kinmen.

Dr Kwan (second right) attends an educational event in Tin Shui Wai with partners from the Ocean Park Conversation Foundation Hong Kong.

Daily health check: Dr Kwan extracts horseshoe crab blood in CityU laboratory.