Protesters outside the Executive Yuan at the Wednesday protest.
Taipei: Local green groups groups including Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union, Yunlin Ecological Conservation Union, Green Party Taiwan and Society of Wilderness held a press conference in front of the Executive Yuan on Wednesday January 9 in response to an announcement by a new team of international experts regarding concern for the survival of Taiwan’s unique Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins Sousa chinensis. The local groups called upon the Taiwanese government to stop evading its responsibility and ignoring the country’s Wildlife Protection Act, and to begin immediate consultations with the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group (ETSSTAWG) as a crucial first step towards preventing this distinct Taiwanese population from disappearing, and towards protecting Taiwan’s biodiversity. After the press conference, several representatives entered the Executive Yuan to present a petition to the government.
The press conference began at 10am in front of the Executive Yuan with a skit by the participating groups, who called out “Protect Taiwan’s National Treasure!” and “Stop Formosa Steel and Kuokuang Petrochemical from destroying the humpback dolphins’ habitat!” They demanded that the government take fast, practical steps to protect the dolphin population.
After the press conference, representatives of the groups entered the Executive Yuan to present their petition. Representatives included Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association Director Robin Winkler, Taiwan Academy of Ecology Executive Secretary Chen Bing-heng, Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union Secretary Gan Chen-yi, Society of Wilderness Conservation Department Director Chou Dong-han, Taiwan Environmental Protection Union Researcher Wu Ying-ying, Taiwan Sustainable Union Director Chen Chien-chih and Yunlin Ecological Conservation Union Executive Secretary Chiu Chien-fang. The representatives were received in the Executive Yuan by the Director of Section 5 of the Executive Yuan, Ms. Siao, Deputy Director of the Forestry Bureau Mr. Lee Tao-sheng and Director of the Conservation Division of the Forestry Bureau Mr. Fang Guo-yun.
Four requests were made in the petition:
1. That the Executive Yuan give a formal response to the petition within two weeks.
2. That the Executive Yuan produce an Action Plan within two months, at the very least proposing policies regarding the five major threats faced by the dolphin population as identified at the international workshop held in September 2007 in Changhua.
3. That all discussion must be guaranteed to be kept totally open and transparent, through measures including public hearings for discussion on all related issues and allowing international groups sufficient opportunity to participate and for their opinions to be heard. These principles should be applied to the production of the aforementioned Action Plan and all subsequent planning and action.
4. That a Minister Without Portfolio should be appointed as the Executive Yuan’s window for this issue, to coordinate policies and participation between central and local government departments and to act as the main point of contact for interest groups concerned in any way with Taiwan’s humpback dolphins. All contact between government and non-governmental organizations and all information regarding development projects in the region which may impact upon the dolphins’ habitat must be kept public and transparent and open to participation by the general public.
During the discussion which followed, Mr. Robin Winkler began by stating that the aim of the petition was to plead for the survival of the unique population of humpback dolphins off Taiwan’s west coast. Winkler said that the announcement of the establishment of the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group earlier that morning demonstrated the concern of the international community for Taiwan’s environment, and that the government should seek the Working Group’s expert advice and propose appropriate measures to deal with the dolphin population. Winkler also said that all levels of government should apply the powers authorized by the country’s Environmental Basic Law and take this Law as their prime principle in administering government affairs.
Director Chou Dong-han of the Conservation Division of the Society of Wilderness then said that, with the government currently putting great effort into trying to becoming a member of the United Nations once again, greater participation in international conservation work should be seen as an opportunity for increasing the country’s chances of achieving this goal. In addition, Chou said that the Council of Agriculture (CAO) would convene the Wildlife Conservation Advisory Committee on the 11th of January [in two days], and suggested that the COA raise the issue of conservation of the Taiwan humpback dolphins for discussion during the meeting.
The Executive Secretary of Yunlin Ecological Conservation Union, Chiu Chien-fang, said with much concern in her voice that Taiwan’s west coast natural environment was already seriously damaged, which could be seen in oyster harvests. Previously, said Chui, Yunlin oyster farms only needed to grow the oysters for eight months before they were ready for harvest. However, she said, now they need eighteen months - ecological destruction has ruined a natural resource that supported local fishing people, and this has contributed to social problems such as local unemployment and the outflow of people from the area, revealing the failure of the government’s promotion of the Sixth Naptha Cracker Plant [located in Yunlin Offshore Industrial Park]. And yet, said Chiu, the government is now promoting more pollution-intensive industry in the form of the Kuokuang Petrochemical Park and the Formosa Steel Plant, which will doubtlessly mean the end for these last livelihood options of local residents. The government should consider sustainability, not just short-term interests.
Taiwan Academy of Ecology Executive Secretary Chen Bing-heng stated that “the humpback dolphin is an indicator of the health of Taiwan’s west coast ecology” and that “if the threats they now face are not mitigated or solved, this will ultimately also be the fate of the Taiwanese people. The government should take the destruction of the west coast environment seriously.”
Ms. Siao, who was responsible for receiving the conservation group representatives, said that she would do her best to report the conservation groups’ efforts and petition to her superiors according to administrative procedures, but that she could not guarantee that it would be possible for the conservation groups to have the other results they desired within two months because of the range of issues involved, and that it the matter would have to wait until the top government levels reached a decision. However, Siao said that she would do her best to enable a decision to be reached within the following two weeks, that the process over that period would be kept transparent, and that public participation would be allowed.
The Deputy Director of the Forestry Bureau, Mr. Lee Tao-sheng, who had accompanied Siao in receiving the representatives of the conservation groups, said that responsibility for dealing with this conservation-related petition lay with the Forestry Bureau, which is the country’s highest-level government organization responsible for conservation. Lee said that he also placed much importance on the conservation of this species, and that in fact the Forestry Bureau had been one of the sponsors of the aforementioned workshop and had sent members of staff to participate. However, he said, in view of the government’s principle of working in unison, the Forestry Bureau would still have to operate according to the appropriate procedures and cooperate with other departments. Lee added that he hoped that conservation and economic development could receive equal emphasis, but that this required integration between departments and that the Forestry Bureau could not simply take a stand. It would only be possible to respond, he said, after research and analysis. As for the recommendation that the matter be discussed by the Wildlife Conservation Advisory Committee, Lee said that the Forestry Bureau could not raise the issue in its capacity as the convener, but that the conservation groups could submit a proposal to the Committee requesting that the Committee discuss the issue.
Mr. Winkler replied that he appreciated the efforts of the Forestry Bureau, but that he hoped that the Council for Economic Planning and Development, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Industrial Development Bureau, none of which had attended the meeting, would also abide by the spirit of the Environmental Basic Law, give consideration to the basic needs of future generations, and aim for true sustainable development.
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