Monday, March 16, 2020

First Fines for Off Shore Wind Farms Failure to dispatch marine mammal observers during piling; EPA fines 1.5 million

12 September 2019 
Taiwan Environmental Information Center editor Chen Wen-tze
The Ocean Zhu-Nan (Formosa I) Offshore Wind Power Plan (Formosa I), located in the coastal waters outside Miaoli County, entered its trial operation phase in September[1] , expects to be completed by the end of the year to become the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in Taiwan. However, when the underwater foundation piling operation was carried out on June 21, July 8, and July 10, the Environmental Protection Agency discovered that it did not send enough observation vessels and cetacean observers thus violating its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) commitments. On August 28, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally issued a disposition, and in what is the first such action against offshore wind farms, levied a fine in the maximum amount of NT$1.5 million [approximately Euro 43,000] in accordance with the EIA Act. 

The EPA said that more wind farms will begin construction next year. The EPA has already discussed with the Coast Guard, the Ocean Conservation Administration, and the Bureau of Energy setting up a specialist team for inter-agency matters so that the developers will not treat lightly the ability of the EPA to monitor the EIA.

Piling noise impacts cetaceans’ hearing; developers’ “bounced checks” fail on committments

The Formosa 1 project passed environmental impact assessment [EIA] review in 2013. In order to mitigate the danger from piling noise on cetaceans, the developer committed in its EIA to dispatch ten observer vessels with marine mammal observers onboard. The observers must first confirm that there is no cetacean activity for at least 30 minutes in the warning zone before piling can begin. If cetaceans are discovered in the warning zone, the construction unit must stop piling [1].

The EPA said that Formosa 1 originally committed to send 10 observation vessels but on June 21, only two vessels were dispatched during the piling, and on July 8 it was also two vessels and on July 10, no vessels were dispatched, all in violation of the EIA commitments. When the EPA discovered the first violation by the developer, it issued a warning and collected evidence, however, the developer continued its violation and being a serious case, in accordance with article 17 of the EIA Law, the EPA imposed the maximum penalty of NTD1.5 million.
Chiang Tzu-nung, deputy head of the EPA’s Supervision Team, said if the developer disagrees with the disposition, within three months of receipt of same it may file an appeal and administrative lawsuit.

He explained that poor weather cannot be used as an excuse for not dispatching observer vessels. The industry knew of this possibility when it made its EIA commitments. If the weather is not good, the industry can stop the construction, but if construction must proceed, then they must dispatch the observers.
Chiang Tzu-nung said that this is the first time the EPA has punished offshore wind development and the penalty is the highest. In addition, this case will also let other offshore wind developers that they must comply with the commitments made during the EIA process.
Construction of wind farms begins next year; EPA plans to establish an inter-agency platform
At present, the offshore wind power piling part for Formosa 1 has been completed, but other aspects of the construction also implicate matters relevant to EIA supervision. More than 700 wind turbines are expected to be built before 2025. The next wind farm is expected to enter the market next May, so the enforcement capacity of the EPA is in for a test.
Chiang Tzu-nung pointed out that the EPA has no vessels and it is difficult to enforce the law at sea. In order to strengthen supervision, the EPA has already called on the Ocean Affairs Administration, and is looking for cooperation from the Coast Guard Administration, the Bureau of Energy, and the Fisheries Agency to form an inter-agency platform. The Coast Guard has vessels and the Bureau of Energy has the responsibility, Ocean Conservation Administration has authority and the Fisheries Agency has fishing vessels, all of which in combination with the EPA will form a special task force.

Chiang Tzu-nung said that the Formosa 1 project is a wind farm that is relatively close to the shore and future wind farms will be relatively further from shore, making supervision be more difficult. The EPA will step up it's planning for an inter-agency task force, which when confirmed, will be announced and in addition to letting the public and the environmental groups know about the government’s conduct, and also let the developer know that just because the EPA has no vessels, does not mean the EPA will not catch violators.

In addition to the EPA, environmental groups are also tracking these violations. On 28 June the media ran an op-ed by Kurtis Jai-Chyi Pei, Professor at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology and Robin Winkler, chair of the Taiwan Matsu’s Conservation Union.[2] In mid-July, the environmental group filed submitted a "Citizens Notice" with the EPA asking for strict enforcement and punishment of the developer for its violations.[3]

Taiwan Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union Chair Robin Winkler criticizes the selection of off shore wind farm sites for the piling noise and say’s there is no “win win”scenario. Photo by Sun Wen-lin.

1.     Content of Formosa 1 EIA Commitments on observer vessels and cetacean observers:
[translators notes – (a) each of the nine blocks are two km sq with (b) the center block showing a radius of 1 km for the warning zone and (c) showing the trajectory for the observer vessels underneath which the legend shows:
Red spot: turbine piling location
Orange spot: warning zone
Purple spot: monitoring area within warning zone block
Blue spot: monitoring area
Monitoring vessels
Broken line indicates navigation course of monitoring vessels
Arrows indicate main direction of travel of Chinese White Dolphin
The caption to this chart reads: Position chart for location of observer vessels and underwater microphones during piling

Formosa 1 during piling has a warning zone with a radius of 1 km, and an observation range of 2.8 to 5.3 km (Note: different developers have different commitments and methods). Sourced from the Formosa 1 EIA Report.

3 The number of observation vessels should be calculated according to the total monitoring area and the observation range of the trained cetacean observers, which is about 1 km; and assuming that the piling noise can be transmitted everywhere in the deep waters, two vessels located at the corners around the warning zone are located at 2 km of the rectangle cruising on clockwise or counter-clockwise trajectory; with each vessel traveling at a speed of 6 knots on an 8 kilometer route it will take 43.2 minutes, and in the monitoring area there is a vessel every 4 square kilometers and each vessel travels at a speed of 6 knots so the 7.5 km route takes 40.5 minutes; the total monitoring area is 36 square kilometers and a total of 10 observation vessels are required (as shown in Figure

4Before starting piling, the observers must first confirm that there is no cetacean activity in the warning zone for at least 30 minutes and when the piling has commenced, as soon as a cetacean enters the warning zone, the construction unit should immediately stop piling, wait thirty minutes after cetaceans have left the warning zone, and then resume with a soft start piling gradually working up to the normal piling force to continue the engineering. If dolphins are found in the monitoring area, observe and record the sighting data and movement direction, and confirm that the dolphins are no longer moving toward the warning zone.

Formosa 1 EIA commitment flow chart and description for marine mammal observers (Note: different developers have different commitments and methods). Sourced from the Formosa 1 EIA Report.

[1] This links to a report from 9 September 2019 台灣首座離岸風場試運轉 海洋風電第二階段首支風機開始發電 (Taiwan’s first offshore wind farm commissioned; the second phase of Formosa 1 begins to generate electricity)

[2] This was an article published on 28 June 2019, “Win/Win Wind! Does the EPA Care?” 雙贏風電! 環保署Care嗎?

[3] Referring to the article of 15 July 2019 covering the press conference at the EPA “Environmental groups charge offshore wind developers with violating the law during piling and ‘blinding’ the white dolphins” 環團檢舉離岸風機違法打樁 批督察失靈恐害白海豚「失明」

Thursday, April 2, 2015

New paper provides evidence that critically endangered Taiwanese white dolphin is distinct, endemic subspecies

It was already clear that the pink-coloured dolphins living off Taiwan’s west coast were different from other nearby populations of the same species (Sousa chinensis, also known as the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin). But a new paper has now revealed that the Taiwanese population also meets the criteria for being recognised as a subspecies.

The authors, John Wang, Shih Chu Yang and Samuel Hung*, who have been researching the critically endangered Taiwanese dolphins since 2002, propose a new scientific name for them - Sousa chinensis taiwanensis, to recognise their special local status.

The findings are the result of a study that compared pigmentation patterns in the Taiwanese population with those of neighbouring populations in the Jiulong River Estuary and the Pearl River Estuary, in the coastal waters of China. Dolphins in all three populations are born grey and gradually become pink or white with age, with the grey pigmentation becoming spots, and sometimes fading away altogether. However, examination of the spotting on individuals shows that the patterns on dolphins from the Taiwanese population are distinct from those in the other two regions.
In such situations, if at least 75% of the population is distinct from more than 99% of other provisional populations, it is commonly accepted as a subspecies. The study found that 94% of the Taiwanese population could be seen to be different from more than 99% of the other two populations, easily meeting this criterion. Further evidence of their uniqueness includes behavioural differences between the Taiwanese dolphins and other populations, and the fact that they are geographically isolated by the deep waters in the middle of the Taiwan Strait; Sousa chinensis are usually only found in shallow, coastal waters.

Recognition as a subspecies would make protective action for the Taiwanese dolphins even more urgent than previously thought, because their extinction would mean not only that Taiwan would lose this charismatic and ecologically important creature from its waters, but also that the world would lose a kind of dolphin that exists nowhere else. This subspecies may even be on a path to becoming a distinct species if the separation is sufficiently long to allow greater differentiation.
Local non-governmental organisations continue to call for official government recognition of the dolphins’ habitat, and for long-delayed action to reduce the five key threats to their survival – bycatch in fishing equipment, air and water pollution, noise and disturbance, loss of freshwater flow into their habitat, and land reclamation. Little has been done to address these threats over the thirteen years that researchers and concerned local groups have been drawing attention to them, and they continue on a trajectory towards extinction.

The full scientific paper about the subspecies recognition can be accessed freely (without subscription) at the website of the journal Zoological Studies at

*While Hung has contributed to research on the Taiwanese population, he has also spent many years researching the Pearl River Estuary population from his base in Hong Kong.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

100 dolphin vision vs 100 year extinction: Taiwan’s choice for white dolphins

Following a workshop in Taiwan in May, where experts proposed a recovery target of 100 for the critically endangered population of Taiwanese white dolphins, new research has painted a clearer picture of the alternative: their path towards extinction.

In a paper published recently in the journal Endangered Species Research, Claryana Araújo and colleagues describe what is likely to happen to the dolphins, currently numbering no more than 74, in a range of scenarios that could occur over the next 100 years.

Using a simulation programme, they first show what is likely to happen to the population if there is no change to the current serious threat of injury and entanglement in fishing gear – the subject of the May workshop. According to the results, in this baseline scenario the population declined and, in 66% of the simulations, became extinct in 100 years or less.

Unsurprisingly, when the researchers then looked at other future scenarios in which the impact from fishing gear increased and the size and quality of the dolphins’ coastal habitat declined, the likelihood of the their extinction within 100 years also increased, with up to 92% of the simulations giving this result.

Araújo said, “The results of this study confirm the very delicate situation of the Taiwanese white dolphins, and that the population is declining.”

Indeed, the fact that the dolphins are critically endangered is already no longer a matter of debate. However, the results of the study confirm that simply stopping the situation from becoming worse will not be enough to save them: the existing threats need to be reduced and, where possible, removed.

This message will be important as the government sets about responding to the situation. Thanks to campaigning by Taiwanese NGOs, the dolphins are already considered in Environmental Impact Assessments for major new projects. Now, with the proposed designation of part of their habitat as ‘Major Wildlife Habitat’ under the Wildlife Conservation Act in May, there could soon be an even stronger mandate both at the national and local government levels to address their plight.

A rapid, coordinated effort will be needed to address the existing threats, which, in addition to fishing gear, also include water and air pollution, underwater noise, land reclamation, and the loss of freshwater flowing into the dolphins’ habitat, due to the damming and diversion of rivers along western Taiwan.

Compared to the threat from fishing gear, less information is available on these other factors, which, the researchers point out, means that they probably underestimated their impact in the study. This suggests that the danger to the dolphins may be even greater than the results show, and their extinction more imminent if action is not taken.

“Based on the data available,” said Araújo, “the mortality due to fisheries interactions is the most serious, immediate threat for this population. And even with uncertainties regarding the level of the other threats and the exact mortality rate, the population shows a decline. This tells us that urgent conservation actions are needed.”

Reducing the number of dolphin deaths from fisheries interactions will not be as straightforward as simply monitoring fishing boat activities and enforcing penalties for catching dolphins.

According to the researchers, thousands of fishers, many of them small scale artisanal fishers, operate along Taiwan’s west coast, making it impossible to effectively observe all their activities and prevent dolphin deaths.

The only feasible solution would be to implement a total ban on gill nets and trawlers within the dolphins’ habitat, they say, echoing the findings of the May workshop.

The workshop also explored ways to work with fishers and fishing authorities to achieve adequate protection for the dolphins while also addressing the issue of overexploitation of fish, and working towards more sustainable long-term fisheries.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Interview with Dr Louella Dolar on protected areas, fisheries and fishing communities in the Philippines

Dr Louella Dolar, of Silliman University in the Philippines, talks about the establishment of protected areas with restrictions on fishing activities, and how this has helped marine ecosystems recover and brought benefits to fishers in the Philippines.

This interview took place at the workshop on Sustainable Fisheries and the Conservation of the Taiwanese White Dolphin, from 28 April to 2 May, 2014, in Taiwan.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Dr Peter Ross: three recommendations on Taiwanese white dolphin fisheries impacts

Dr Peter Ross* on the three recommendations of the international expert group after a week-long workshop on fisheries impacts on the critically endangered Taiwanese white dolphin population.

*Chair of the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group and Program Director at the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada.

Taiwan’s White Dolphins and fisheries can benefit from dolphin-friendly fishing, says international expert group

Scientists propose target of 100 dolphins by 2030

Taiwan’s critically endangered and biologically distinct White Dolphins (Sousa chinensis) and its fishers could both benefit from a switch to dolphin-friendly fishing gear, concluded scientists at an international workshop yesterday in Taipei.

The workshop participants, from Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States, were invited by the Biodiversity Research Centre at Academic Sinica, the Marine Biology and Cetacean Research Center of National Cheng-Kung University, and Matsu's Fish Conservation Union. The workshop was held under the auspices of the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group, an international group of scientists established in 2007 to provide conservation-based scientific advice to recover the Taiwanese white dolphins.

The Taiwanese white dolphins, which inhabit the nearshore waters of Taiwan’s west coast, number approximately 74 individuals. They face numerous threats, including entanglement in fishing nets, particularly gillnets. Dolphins can drown if they are unable to break free from a net, and such an impact may jeopardize the survival or recovery of the population.

More than 30% of the dolphins bear the scars of previous entanglements, and some dolphins still have nets wrapped around their bodies. This causes terrible suffering and impairs their ability to feed and reproduce.

Workshop participants suggested that Taiwan could set a target to increase the number of dolphins to 100 individuals by 2030.  This would improve the population from the IUCN ‘Critically Endangered’ listing to the ‘Endangered’ listing.

“The Taiwanese white dolphins are suffering from terrible injuries associated with fishing nets. The best hope to reduce this threat, and recover this critically endangered population, would come from banning gill nets in their habitat, and encouraging fishers to switch to more selective fishing gear,” said Dr. Peter Ross, Chair of the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group and Program Director at the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada.

Switching to alternative, more selective fishing methods can also bring significant benefits to fishers, with recovering fish stocks leading to increased income for fishers.

The international expert group welcomed the recent announcement by the Forestry Bureau that it will soon designate Major Wildlife Habitat for the dolphins.

The expert group encouraged the Forestry Bureau to consider increasing the Major Wildlife Habitat area from Longfeng Harbour (Miaoli County) in the north to Jiangiyun Harbour (Tainan City) in the south, and increasing the offshore boundary to 3 nautical miles from the shore.

The designation of Major Wildlife Habitat represents a management tool, but it will only be meaningful if accompanied by actions to reduce the threat from pollution, freshwater diversions, noise, habitat destruction and fisheries impacts.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fisheries bycatch must stop to avoid extinction of Taiwan’s humpback dolphins

Fishing activities pose the most serious, immediate and obvious threat to Taiwan’s critically endangered humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis), but can be addressed most easily, according to researchers.

In a study published in the journal Endangered Species Research, Dr. Elizabeth Slooten and colleagues say that the impact of fishing gear on the small population of dolphins, also known as the Eastern Taiwan Strait (ETS) humpback dolphins, must be reduced in order to avert their extinction.

Taking action to switch to more dolphin-friendly fishing equipment would require short-term investment, but the benefits both for the dolphins and for the fishing industry could be significant and lasting.

There are estimated to be fewer than 75 dolphins in the population, and more than 30% show signs of having been caught in or injured by fishing gear. Some can be seen swimming with lines still attached to their fins and around their bodies, while others bear deep, lasting scars from previous entanglement.

Surveys of fishing activities within their habitat reveal widespread use of the kinds of fishing gear most likely to cause humpback dolphin ‘bycatch’ - death from fisheries interactions. Of most concern are the thousands of gillnets along the west coast of the island, which are designed to catch fish by their gills but are also known to kill humpback dolphins, as well as most other kinds of cetaceans.

One kind of gillnet, called a trammel net, consists of multiple (usually three) layers of netting, some more slack than others, which makes it particularly easy for marine wildlife to become entangled. This is the most prevalent kind of gillnet in the dolphins’ range.

Trawling, another kind of fishing that can cause Sousa bycatch, has been banned in much of the dolphins’ near-shore habitat, but continues illegally nevertheless, often in plain sight.

The study shows that, in order for the population to survive and recover, levels of bycatch must be reduced to less than one dolphin every seven years. It is not known how many dolphins are killed or have a reduced lifespan due to fisheries injuries, but photographic evidence and bycatch reports suggest that the mortality rate is higher than this.

To prevent the extinction of this unique population, the researchers recommend halting the use of gillnets and trawling within the humpback dolphins’ habitat. This would include strict enforcement of the existing trawling ban, and adopting alternative fishing methods which are more selective, and less damaging to cetaceans and other marine life and their habitat.

Converting to these methods will cost money in the short term. But in addition to giving the dolphins a good chance of recovery, the benefits for the fisheries themselves could be significant as populations of higher value fish species recover and grow, the entire ecosystem improves, and the fishing industry becomes more sustainable.
The study notes that bycatch is only one of five major threats to the dolphins: habitat loss from land reclamation, pollution, loss of freshwater flow from rivers, and noise and other disturbance, are also contributing to their decline, and all need to be addressed. But in the short term, argue the researchers, because of the immediacy and seriousness of fishing impacts, stopping the use of certain fishing practices would be the ‘single most effective conservation measure for ETS Sousa.’