Saturday, January 12, 2008

Summary of the press coverage of the establishment of the Eastern Taiwan Strait Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin Technical Advisory Working Group

This week saw the announcement of the establishment of the Eastern Taiwan Strait Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin Technical Advisory Working Group (ETSSTAWG). ETSSTAWG is an international team of 17 scientists dedicated to the plight of Taiwan’s remaining Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis). ETSSTAWG will provide expert advice, guidance and scrutiny related to conservation issues for this isolated and endangered population of dolphins, at the request of stakeholders, policymakers, agency officials, and other interested parties. What follows is a summary of local press coverage (English) and comments.


Taipei Times:

1. Groups make bid to save 'Matsu fish'

The article starts by stating 'The dolphins are also known as "Matsu fish" because they generally appear along the west coast around the March birthday of the sea goddess.' This is misleading as it implies that these dolphins aren't resident and only appear at certain times of the year. In fact, the dolphins are frequently seen throughout the summer and have been spotted during some winter months, including December, so would appear to be resident.

The Taiwan Strait is influenced by the north-easterly wind, and for three quarters of the year, the turbulent sea is covered in whitecaps, making observation of a white-coloured dolphin difficult (Humpback dolphins are not charismatic jumpers so generally just dorsal fins and parts of the back can be observed.). After about the middle of the third month of the lunar calendar, the sea becomes calmer, and the dolphins become easier to distinguish from the waves. The birthday of the sea goddess Matsu falls around this time, on the 23rd of the third month of the lunar calendar. Therefore, it is said that these dolphins appear in the area to wish Matsu a happy birthday.

The article also incorrectly refers to the "Matsu's Fish Conservation Union" as the "Matsu Fish Protection Alliance."

The article also states that Ecology Academy General Secretary Chen Bing-heng had said 'conservation experts from countries such as Canada, Japan and the US passed a resolution in an international conservation seminar in Taiwan in September establishing a consultancy group that offers assistance on Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins conservation.' Chen was speaking in Mandarin and it would seem that some of what he said has been misinterpreted.

Firstly, Chen is Secretary General of the Taiwan Academy of Ecology. The "seminar" would in fact be the Second International Workshop on the Conservation and Research Needs of the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins, Sousa chinensis, in the waters of western Taiwan held in Changhua City in September 2007, hosted by the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium (Taiwan) and co-hosted by FormosaCetus Research & Conservation Group, and Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association. The workshop included several government departments and international NGOs amongst its sponsors. This workshop was clearly more than just a "seminar."

There wasn't a resolution passed at the September workshop establishing a consultancy group but rather an undertaking to form a steering committee tasked with putting together and establishing a scientific advisory group. The advisory group, the Eastern Taiwan Strait Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin Technical Advisory Working Group (ETSSTAWG), was formally established in Washington DC on 8th January 2008.

2. CPC, Formosa ordered to study impact on dolphins

The article starts by stating 'The government has sought measures to protect endangered dolphins before CPC Corp, Taiwan and Formosa Plastics Group spend US$20 billion on chemicals and steel plants on the west coast.' The article does not elaborate on what those measures are but implies that the government has sought specific protection measures. Humpback dolphins were listed as a protected species under Taiwan's Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) before the Eastern Taiwan Strait population was discovered in 2002. Nothing specifically has been added to its already existing protected species status so the government hasn't taken additional measures to protect the dolphins under the WPA.

The government has through co-sponsorship of two dolphin workshops shown some desire to learn a little more about the dolphins but have not acted on the recommendations made in the workshop to address the plight of the dolphins. If these actions can be interpreted as the government seeking measures to protect the endangered dolphins before CPC Corp, and Formosa Plastics Group spend US$20 billion on chemicals and steel plants on the west coast would be highly debatable.

Edward Huang, director-general of the Environmental Protection Administration's planning department, is quoted as saying 'If the dolphins are found near the sites, the companies will have to come up with measures to ensure these animals won't be disturbed' and 'Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are endangered and it's an international practise to project them.' Clearly, the dolphins are found around the sites as international scientific peer-reviewed papers presenting evidence of their presence show. The fact that Edward Huang refuses to acknowledge this only serves to highlight the concerns of environmental groups that the EPA seems to favour developers and neglects its duty of protecting the environment.

Roy Chiu, president of Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co, a venture led by state-run oil refiner CPC, and the Formosa Plastics Group is quoted as saying 'We don't think Kuokuang will affect the habitat of the dolphins' and 'We would like to know what we can do, and we know very little.' These statements from Chiu are disturbing. If Kuokuang knows very little then they only have themselves to blame. Clearly, after published research, peer-reviewed papers, recommendations and action plans resulting from two international workshops there is information out there and now Chiu has the expertise of ETSSTAWG to call on. Also, if Chiu knows very little then how can he say that he doesn't think Kuokuang will affect the habitat of the dolphins. That's a very irresponsible statement for the president of Kuokuang to make and very poor logic that clearly shows Chiu’s bias and self-interests in these statements.

There were five threats identified in the second workshop, by-catch in fishing gear; reclamation of estuarine and coastal regions for industrial purposes; diversion and extraction of freshwater from major river systems of western Taiwan; release of industrial, agricultural and municipal effluent into rivers and coastal waters; and noise and disturbance associated with construction, shipping and military activities. How Chiu can state that he doesn't think Kuokuang will affect the habitat of the dolphins is absurd. Reclamation of estuarine and coastal regions for industrial purposes is taking place. The projects rely on water from the controversial Hushan Dam Project that will reduce the flow of freshwater into the Jhoushui River Estuary. Hushan Dam is being built to supply water to these very projects. The projects are already creating noise and disturbance associated with construction through the reclaiming of land and this will increase as the projects progress. Finally, these projects will result in an increase in emissions that will result in the release of industrial effluent into the surrounding coastal waters.

Additionally, Chiu stated that 'A one-year study commissioned by Kuokuang did not spot any of the dolphins near the proposed site.' This study only dedicated three days of offshore survey, by observers whose cetacean survey experience is questionable at best, to look for cetaceans. That's hardly enough time to clearly ascertain the status of the humpback dolphins in and around the proposed site. Highly experienced and internationally respected researchers have already documented the presence of these dolphins in this area with video footage and numerous photographs.

The five paper dolphins in the photo represent the five major threats to the dolphins.

China Post

Small party urges gov't to address environment

This article quotes Taipei based lawyer Robin J. Winkler as saying 'These dolphins could be extinct within 20 years ... if the government doesn't protect their habitat.' On approaching Winkler for comment he says this was taken out of context as he had explained he was not a scientist but added something like twenty years would not be far off and these dolphins most likely would become extinct sooner if immediate action isn't taken to protect them.

It should also be noted that the article identifies Winkler as a member of the advisory committee to the Green Party Taiwan. This is true but Winkler wasn't just there in his capacity of a Green Party advisor. Winkler is also director and founder of Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, which is the secretariat of the Matsu's Fish Conservation Union.

Taiwan News

Protecting dolphins
This article is a summary of the CPC, Formosa ordered to study impact on dolphins article that appeared in the Taipei Times. See comments for that article.

Online Government News Sites

Taiwan Headlines

Gov't urged to save endangered Chinese white dolphins
This article gives the mass of a humpback dolphin as weigh between 80 and 100 kg. This is incorrect. Humpback dolphins weigh considerably more. Reeves, R.R. et al. 2002 gives the weight as: Male 260kg and Female 170kg.


Gov't urged to save endangered Chinese white dolphins
This is the same article as in Taiwan Headlines.


Radio Taiwan International

Paper Dolphin Photo
Radio Taiwan International covered events in a broadcast at 19:00 9 January 2008 and carried a photo on their website.

Also see:

Summary of local Taiwanese press coverage of the establishment of the ETS Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin Technical Advisory Working Group

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