Stepping out of the shell - going from urban jungle to Mother Nature

Stepping out of the shell - going from urban jungle to Mother Nature

There's more to living in HK than malls, movie theatres and the MTR. Lift a rock every once in a while!

In such a work-oriented city as Hong Kong, most people rarely have the time to learn more about the natural environment, let alone try and protect it. Instead, the organic world is often neglected and disregarded.

A group of teenagers have set out to show everyone how much there is to learn from nature. Their ideas have received recognition with an award in the Searching for Nature Stories - Investigative Field Study Competition, aimed at senior secondary students studying biology in Hong Kong.

A team of Form Five students from Diocesan Girls' School won the award with their project, Home Sweet Home.

For five months starting from November last year, the four group members had to plan their own field trips and conduct scientific investigations. They chose to focus their study on hermit crabs.

"We thought that hermit crabs looked really cute and we fell in love with them instantly. We were curious about how they choose their shells to live in, and how they find the best homes for themselves," says team member Michelle Tang, 17.

During this period, the team members took crabs randomly from different sites and brought them back to the school lab to study. The crabs were then given shells in different sizes and patterns.

"Contrary to what we thought, these crabs did not choose their shells based on attractiveness ... it was based on the lumen size, which is space inside the shell," says Phoebe Kwok, also 17.

"The crabs stuck their little heads inside and rolled the shells around to examine the inner space. This process took quite a long time. They were surprisingly particular about these details."

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After submitting their investigation reports in March this year, the group was selected to give a presentation during the final round of the competition in April. They were also the only team among 17 other competitors that chose to perform a short play and sing a song for their presentation.

Their dramatic skit impressed judges; it not only presented their experimental results in a fun way, but also displayed a creative and unconventional approach that made them stand out from the crowd.

Alison Pang, 16, played the role of the hermit crab in the three-minute drama. "I really enjoyed pretending to be a crab; it was satisfying to see that our little skit generated such positive reaction from the audience. They couldn't stop laughing."

In the play, the hermit crab chose her dream home, or shell, with the help of a property agent. However, things got messy when a rival wanted the same shell.

Alongside the skit, they rewrote the lyrics of the song Do You Want to Build a Snowman from Frozen to explain the dilemma hermit crabs face when it comes to selecting the best shells.

"We believed that a more creative and light-hearted approach on a complicated topic would make it easier for others to understand and would make a lasting impression," says Kelly Chan, 17.

Michelle agrees. "I believe that originality is the key to winning. We don't just want to recite our statistics and findings; it would be boring."

Through their presentation, the team hopes to inspire others to learn more about the creatures.

"In our research, we found out that a lot of Hong Kong people keep hermit crabs as pets," says Kelly. "We would like to remind them that they should know what shells their crabs really need and not to choose the shells based on how they look. It just shows that sometimes what is inside is much more important than what is on the outside."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Out of the city's shell


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