Land reclamation work in dolphin habitat, Mailiao Industrial Park, Yunlin County.
Since the writing of the West Coast Industrial Development Leaves Endangered Dolphins Little Breathing Space article there have been a number of developments in the plight of the Taiwan population of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin Sousa chinensis.
First and foremost are the continued research efforts of the FormosaCetus Research and Conservation Group. FormosaCetus have been continuing their research and observation work as per the conclusions reached at the 2004 symposium and workshop on the humpback dolphins of western Taiwan, they have published a superb field guide, An Identification Guide to the Dolphins and Other Small Cetaceans of Taiwan, and they actively participated, through attendance and written submissions, in over a dozen environmental impact assessments of development projects planned for Taiwan’s west coast.
A group of Taiwan NGOs came together in January 2007 to form the “Save the ‘Fish’ of the Sea Goddess Alliance” and individual and organizational members of this alliance have held training sessions for Taiwan humpback dolphin spotting and eco tourism (with an emphasis on staying on the shore where the tourists will have very little if any negative impact on the animals), lobbying for protection, monitoring government development projects, production of pamphlets, advertising, awareness T-shirts, and lectures and other educational efforts. The NGOs have set up websites in Chinese and English.
The Taiwan Cetacean Society has also joined in the efforts to better understand and educate the public about the humpback dolphins, having produced their own educational materials and taken on at least two Council of Agriculture-sponsored research projects.
Six dedicated environmentalists (or as they prefer to refer to themselves, “sustainable economists”) were appointed to serve on the Environmental Impact Assessment Commission of Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration in August 2005. With the help of the research from FormosaCetus, the commissioners were able to bring attention to the plight of the Taiwan humpback dolphins and potential impact to their survival during meetings concerning development projects in Taichung (Taijhong), Changhua (Jhanghua), Yunlin and Chiayi (Jiayi) Counties. The Council of Agriculture is now raising the issue on its own and there are some other signs that the government will pay more attention to ocean ecology.
However, paying attention to and doing the right thing from the perspective of biodiversity, conservation, and a long-term or sustainable economy are two very different matters.
And the signs are not good. Taiwan government officials, developers and even academics seem to think that we can have it all – continued breakneck development and conservation. During the past two years, the same government that touts Taiwan’s biodiversity to the rest of the world and wants to make Taiwan a destination for ecotourism has proposed development projects in Taiwan that would result in a nearly 50% increase in annual CO2 emissions. This is from a country that already has a per capita CO2 footprint three times the world average. As we know, the CO2 emissions are simply the tip of the indicator iceberg. The water and air pollution, land reclamation, water usage and so forth that will accompany the rise in CO2 emissions could well be the death knell for many of Taiwan’s species.
A large portion of these projects are along the west coast right in the heart of the known humpback dolphin habitat. Coal fired power plants, steel plants, industrial parks, commercial ports, offshore wind stations, and undersea cables are but a few of the projects well underway. All of the projects have nearly universal backing from politicians and all the projects are sure to have a major negative impact on the humpback dolphins and other marine life.
In September this year (2007), Taiwan’s National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium is holding a four day international workshop in Lukang, central Taiwan, bringing cetacean scientists and conservation experts from around the world to link up with Taiwan NGOs, government officials, and industry representatives to form a consultation committee and come up with an action plan for saving the humpback dolphins of western Taiwan.
The extinction of the Baiji Dolphin from the Yangtze River in China, which was confirmed early this year and which was recirculated in the international press recently, is a grim reminder that the timing of this year’s workshop and the formation of the task force and action plan couldn’t be more critical.