Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Songshan: Before and After Photos

Songshan 2009-3-19

Songshan 2006

Two before and after photos showing the old Songshan Tobacco site that has been destroyed by developers under while the legality of the project still lies before the courts and the environmental impact assessment (EIA) has yet to by passed. Follow the links to read the story.

Photos courtesy of Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association.

Disregard for the legal process:- The last of the great Songshan camphor trees

Update: Disregard for the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees

Update: It's gone ! Total disregard of the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees has gone !

More on the Songshan Tree issue

Songshan update: case against activists dismissed

Neonate photographed

March 2009 - Photo showing neonate (left), adult (center), older calf (right): photo courtesy of Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association

A few days ago in the waters off Taichung County a group of Humpback Dolphins, which included a neonate, were observed. Winter sightings like these are important in proving that these dolphins are resident all year, something that developers have denied.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Taiwan green groups call for action against bycatch as U.S. groups call for ban on Taiwan swordfish imports

Yesterday morning, local conservation groups called upon the Executive Yuan to address the threat of certain types of fishing nets to Taiwan’s humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis), responding to a petition by American conservation groups for the U.S. to ban imports of swordfish caught by Taiwanese gillnet and longline fisheries due to reportedly high levels of cetacean bycatch.

Photo: Matsu (Eagle Shih 施月英) and her "fish" (humpback dolphin)

The U.S.-based Centre for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network claim that much of the swordfish imported by the U.S. is sourced from countries that have failed to demonstrate that their fishing methods do not kill or otherwise harm cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in numbers exceeding U.S. standards. The groups say that much of this fish is supplied by Taiwanese fisheries via intermediaries in Singapore, and that the information currently available on Taiwan indicates high levels of incidental catch (or “bycatch”) of cetaceans.

The structure of gillnets makes them particularly dangerous for cetaceans, which can become entangled in them and drown, while longlines can cause death by drowning, starvation, bleeding or infection when cetaceans become entangled in the lines or on the hooks attached to them, which can number into the thousands.

Photo: "Survivor" - one of Taiwan's injured humpback dolphins

Photo: Forty security staff prepare to meet thirteen dolphin conservationists

Yesterday morning, a procession of green groups arrived at their press conference at the gates of the Executive Yuan carrying a life-size model of a dolphin. Among them was Eagle Shih (施月英) of Changhua Coast Conservation Action dressed as Matsu, the Sea Goddess of the Matsu Religion after whom the humpback dolphin gets its local name “Matsu’s fish”. More than forty security guards blockaded the gate as the procession approached, as also happened in January last year when the groups first petitioned the Executive Yuan to take action to save the dolphins.

Chin Ray (金磊) of the Hualien-based Kuroshio Ocean Education Foundation (黑潮海洋文教基金會) confirmed that considerable bycatch occurs on both the east and west coasts of Taiwan, often in drift gillnets.

Photo: Chin Ray (金磊) of KOEF

The groups said that despite their repeated calls for measures to prevent bycatch of critically endangered humpback dolphins in gillnet fisheries off the west coast, the government has done nothing and continues to drag its feet, allowing six-month delays between meetings and failing to officially designate the dolphins’ habitat.

“By delaying for six months at a time the government is forcing international groups to resort to methods such as boycotting Taiwanese products,” said Mr. Wen Ping-yuan (溫炳原), the Green Party’s candidate for the upcoming legislative by-election for Daan District. “This is bad for the economic interests of Taiwan’s fisheries and for our international conservation image.”

Photo: Green Party Taiwan's Wen Ping-Yuan (溫炳原) and Eagle Shih

At a closed-door meeting which then took place inside the Executive Yuan, the groups spoke to Deputy Director Hsiao (蕭副組長) of the Fifth Division of the Executive Yuan and representatives from the Fisheries Agency and the Forestry Bureau.

The groups first expressed disappointment at what they called the Executive Yuan’s ineffective treatment of the humpback dolphin issue last year and the fact that the government had restricted dialogue by only consulting a local cetacean researcher known to receive considerable funding from corporate and government industrial development bodies.

They then made several requests, including that: the dolphins’ habitat be officially designated; funding be provided for international humpback dolphin experts to be invited to an “expert meeting” on the dolphins planned by the Environmental Protection Administration; information useful to the conservation of the dolphins be made readily available (such as that regarding numbers of gillnets and fish catch statistics for west coast waters, which the Fisheries Agency had so far failed to provide); and that future government meetings on the subject be made open to journalists and the general public.

Photo: Deputy Director Hsiao

Photo: "Save the endangered Matsu's Fish"

The previous two meetings, in August 2008 and February 2009, were by invitation-only, and the groups have said that on both occasions journalists and certain locally-based humpback dolphin researchers were excluded from the guest list.

Hsiao asked the Forestry Bureau to find out which agencies could provide funding in order to bring international humpback dolphin experts to join the disussion, and indicated that such a budget should not be limited to one single expert meeting but should be allocated with continuing needs in mind. She also commented that under the Freedom of Information Act all information should be made available on request, even if it provided an opportunity for criticism of the government. On the matter of restricted access to humpback dolphin meetings she said that there was concern that journalists and the public may not fully understand the issue and may therefore "cause complications".

The life-size humpback dolphin will make its next appearance tonight at the Chenlan Temple (鎮瀾宮) in Dachia (大甲), Taichung County, as members of humpback dolphin conservation groups join a traditional eight-day pilgrimage around nearby towns and villages in a bid to raise attention for the dolphins’ plight.

Petitioning groups:
Matsu's Fish Conservation Union Planning Office, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Assocation, Taiwan Academy of Ecology, Taiwan Sustainable Union, Green Party Taiwan, Changhua Environmental Protection Union, Changhua Coast Conservation Union, Kurishio Ocean Education Foundation, Taiwan Friends of the Global Greens and Mercy on the Earth.



Sea Goddess Matsu to be Accompanied by her Critically Endangered “Fish” During Pilgrimage

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sea Goddess Matsu to be accompanied by her critically endangered “fish” during pilgrimage

From Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association

(Volunteers needed)

This weekend, Taiwanese conservation groups will be joining the eight-day Tachia Matsu Pilgrimage (大甲媽祖遶境) in central Taiwan in order to raise awareness of the plight of Taiwan’s critically endangered humpback dolphins, also known locally as “Matsu’s Fish” (媽祖魚).

According to legend, the Goddess Matsu was born in 960 AD in Fujian Province, China, as a girl named Lin Mo-Niang (林默娘). It is said that she once attempted to rescue her father and brothers, who were caught in a storm while fishing, and that when she died she became immortal and has guarded over fishermen and sailors in the Taiwan Strait ever since.

Photo: Matsu Temple in Tachia, Michael Turton

During the annual pilgrimage, which celebrates Matsu’s birthday on the 23rd day of the third month in the lunar calendar, a statue of the goddess will be carried from Tachia Chenlan Temple (大甲鎮瀾宮) in Taichung, central Taiwan, to nearby cities and villages.

The environmental groups making up the Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union (MFCU) are hoping that their participation in the festival will raise awareness of the critically endangered population of humpback dolphins that live in a narrow stretch of coastal waters along Taiwan’s west coast.

The dolphins are thought to have been named “Matsu’s fish” by coastal communities because they are more easily spotted from around the third month of the lunar calendar and have therefore been said to be surfacing to wish Matsu a happy birthday. The waters of the Taiwan Strait generally become calmer at that time, and therefore the pale pink dolphins are less likely to be confused with the white foam of breaking waves.

The pilgrimage will take place a month after the Taiwan government held its second meeting to discuss the numerous threats to the population brought to public attention by MFCU. The meeting was seen as a great disappointment by the conservationists, who say that the government has failed to take even the most basic steps such as designating the dolphins’ critical habitat and inviting the team of researchers who have been studying the dolphins since 2002 to join the closed-door discussions.

Photo: MFCU says that injured and emaciated dolphins such as "Survivor" (活著) reflect greater environmental problems in Taiwan's west coast waters

At the meeting, some felt that the Fisheries Agency was pitting fishermen against the dolphins by suggesting that measures to reduce dolphin entanglement in gillnets would ruin the livelihoods of fishermen. MCFU members argue that the dolphins, being at the top of the food chain, are an indicator of the health of the coastal waters and that their dwindling numbers and sometimes emaciated appearance reflects the poor state of the environment and the unsustainable nature of the west coast fisheries.

“We shouldn’t make the humpback dolphins out to be the enemy, we need to see them as an opportunity,” says Mr Binghen Chen of MFCU.

The procession begins at 23:00 this Saturday (21 March) at Tachia Chenlan Temple and will travel to temples in Dadu Township (大肚鄉), Changhua City (彰化市), Beitou Township (北斗鎮), Hsichou Township (溪洲鄉), Hsiluo Township (西螺鎮), Yuanchang Township (元長鄉) and Singang Township (新港鄉), where a birthday ceremony will be held at 8:00 on 25 March. On the return journey to Tachia, the pilgrims will also pass through Huwei Village (虎尾鎮), Pitou Township (埤頭鄉), Yungchin Township (永靖鄉), Yuanlin Township (員林鎮) and Cingshuei Village (清水鎮).

Due to their limited staff, MFCU are asking the public to help during the procession. Should you wish to participate, please contact MFCU for the schedule and guidance regarding certain practices which should be observed during this important religious festival (including sticking to a vegetarian diet throughout the event).

For information in Taiwanese or Mandarin call Miss Kan on 04-26... ext. 17054 or 0982-....
For English call Chris on 02-23825789 ext. 508 or 0938-643410.

Blotchy (TW-28) photo.

Blotchy (TW-28) March 2009: photo courtesy of Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association

A photo of Blotchy (TW-28) taken in the waters off Taichung this week. Blotchy (TW-28) would be a juvenile to sub-adult individual. She [we think] was first identified in early April 2003 around the Dadu River estuary area as a more grey coloured animal. She has been seen again in 2004, 2007, 2008 and now in 2009.

Meet three of the Taiwan Humpback Dolphins

Recent Taiwan Humpback Dolphin Photos

Video:- Taiwan Pink Dolphins off the Taichung Thermal Power Plant, the planet's dirtiest coal-fired power plant

A pink dolphin off the Taichung Powerplant at Wuchi (click photo to enlarge).

See the video clip on the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association website of some Taiwan Pink Dolphins off the Taichung Thermal Power Plant (Wuchi), the planet's dirtiest coal-fired power plant according to Nature magazine (Vol 450/15 November 2007, p 327:- Graphic detail Countries with highest CO2-emitting power sectors, Tonnes per year).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Houlong Science Park delayed

Central News Service 09 March 2009 1535 Taipei
Adapted by Wild News Service from the original Hanji

A planned industrial park for Miaoli County was sent by the Environmental Impact Assessment Committee back to a sub committee for further screening by a vote of 7 to 5 with two invalid votes. Miaoli County Commissioner, Liu Chenghong’s presence at the meeting failed to intimidate the commission.

Commissioners said that the information on the cultural surveys was inadequate and although the developer has already done survey work the results of the survey were not disclosed in their application materials. There was also specific mention of the impact the park’s development would have on habitat of the humpback dolphins.

The Assessment Committee members remarked that if the Miaoli County Commissioner felt that there was no need to consult with the landowners who own 51% of the land to be developed he might need to have his head examined. There are over 300 landowners whose opposing opinions have not been dealt with and the committee said that there concerns should be addressed on a priority basis.

The Director of the Taiwan Academy of Ecology Professor Chung Ding-mao pointed out that the agricultural land to be developed is prime land as rated by Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture and the move will impact more than 2000 people. He noted the prospective violence that would be perpetrated against the people in the event the government turns to eminent domain to take the land from the farmers.

Chang Fongnien of the Taichung New Environment Promotion Association and a practicing physician, noted that taking land from people who are working the land is quite a different matter from the simple transfer of land from the Taiwan Sugar Corporation as has been the case in other recent industrial park developments. He noted the watermelon festival held annually in the area as well as the presence of an ecological village, pointing out that in this regard the developer simply said “the development will not affect any protected forest”.

Dr. Chang also cited the harassment of local by police and the local Environmental Protection Bureau for having put out banners protesting the project upon learning of it last November. He said these are examples that underscore the duplicity of the government when it states it doesn’t want to “overdevelop” or that it encourages the participation of the people in decision making.

Commissioner Liu during the meeting said it is all about money and everything else is a “bunch of flatulence”. He said the majority of the people support the project this is just a protest by a small minority.

Comments: Although Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association has a colleague watching this case the author is not that familiar with the situation other than the pattern is identical to what we have witnessed time and again for so called “science park” development. First the government prefers science parks over industrial parks because it is easier to confiscate the land. Second, there are thousands of hectares of vacant land in Taiwan’s industrial and science parks, this project is one of the many “pork” items the Ma/Xiao regime is using to consolidate its power. Miaoli, a predominately Hakka county is also traditionally a very pro Chinese Kuomintang area. A bi-election is being held in this county for legislator on account of the person (Chinese KMT) who’s position will be contested having been convicted and sentence for vote buying. Miaoli long known until quite recently as a major producer of pottery is also the location of historical kilns built during the Japan era. Under Commissioner Liu’s watch history and culture don’t seem to be faring so well. Last week he claimed to know nothing about “any dolphins” near the coast of Miaoli. Not a good sign.

Also see:
Group to take action against local officials over kilns

Miaoli officials caught in a lie

Friday, March 6, 2009

More on the Songshan Tree issue

The David on Formosa blog has a firsthand account of the removal of the last old camphor tree from the site of the the old Songshan Tobacco Factory.
See Green Party protests to save tree for more on the Songshan tree issue.

Also see:

Disregard for the legal process:- The last of the great Songshan camphor trees

Update: Disregard for the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees

Update: It's gone ! Total disregard of the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees has gone !

Songshan: Before and After Photos

Songshan update: case against activists dismissed

Photos from Mailiao: more dolphin habitat gone !

The following photos document a land reclamation project in known Humpback Dolphin habitat at the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) Plant at Mailiao, Yunlin County. Photos A & B show humpback dolphins in the waters off the FPG plant in the summer of 2007. In photo A the reclamation work is just starting and earth-moving machinery is clearly visible on the shore. The dolphin is between the two pink arrowheads. It should be noted that the FPG Plant is largely built on reclaimed land. The construction of the plant radically changed and destroyed much of the Jhoushuei River estuary. The Jhoushuei River is Taiwan's largest river. Interviews with local fishermen show that before the construction of the plant dolphins where frequently seen in the area where the plant now stands. It should also be noted that the plant was completed two years before Taiwan's first ever democratic elections in 1996 so the environmental impact assessments, if one can even refer to them as that, were done by an autocratic one party regime.

Humpback Dolphins have been documented by international scientists in the waters around the FPG Plant. Developers denied the existence of the dolphins within the area. Environmental lawyer Robin Winkler was even assaulted during a meeting at the Environmental Protection Administration offices in November 2007 by the Yunlin County Assembly Speaker when pro-development supporters denied the existence of the dolphins around the FPG Plant. Since that time even FPG's scientists have had to acknowledge observing dolphins in the waters around the plant. Despite this reclamation continues.

Valuable known habitat for these critically endangered dolphins is being lost at an alarming rate. It seems that FPG is determined to drive what is arguably the most endangered dolphin population on the planet from the Jhoushuei River estuary. With little habitat remaining elsewhere and development projects all along the west coast there is nowhere else for the dolphins to go other than over the edge into extinction.

Click on a photo to enlarge it !

Photo A shows a humpback dolphin in the waters off the FPG plant in the summer of 2007 (photo courtesy of FormosaCetus).

Photo B shows photo grabs from a video filmed off the FPG plant (video courtesy of FormosaCetus) in the summer of 2007. Note the coast guard tower in the photos. The tower is visible in many of the photos below. Click here to watch the video clip.

Photo C (2007-08-02) shows early construction work for the reclamation project. The photo is of the south sea-wall being constructed. Note the coast guard tower shown in Photo B clearly visible in this photo.

Photo D (2007-09-28) shows the south wall of the the reclamation project. The south sea-wall construction area is now walled off.

Photo E (2008-08-08) shows the south sea-wall roughly eleven months later. The coast guard tower is just visible to the right of the south sea-wall (click on the photo to enlarge it) and the north sea-wall is visible in the left of the photo.

Photo F (2008-08-08) shows the the construction of the north sea-wall. Photo taken from the end of the south sea-wall.

Photo G (2008-08-08) shows boulders being dumped into the sea for the construction of the north sea-wall. Photo taken from the south sea-wall.

Photo H (2008-08-08) shows the the area between the two sea-walls that will be reclaimed.

Photo I (2008-08-08) shows a comparison of Photos A & H. The area where the dolphin was in Photo A is indicated with an orange arrowhead. It clearly shows this area within the area of the two sea-walls.

Photo J (2009-03-05) shows the area to be reclaimed enclosed by sea-walls. The dolphin in Photo A was situated within this area.

Photo K (2009-03-05) shows the view from the shore looking out to where the dolphin in Photo A was. The area is now enclosed within the sea-walls.

Photo L (2009-03-05) shows the south sea-wall at present.

Photo M (2009-03-05) shows the coast guard tower off the end of the south sea-wall.

Photo N (2009-03-05) shows a ship squirting a concrete-grey liquid into the water between the coast guard tower and the end of the south-sea-wall. Any comments on what this ship may be doing would be appreciated.

Photo O (2009-03-05) shows a ship squirting a concrete-grey liquid into the water between the coast guard tower and the end of the south-sea-wall. Any comments on what this ship may be doing would be appreciated.

Update: We've been told the ship was dumping mud dredged from the Mailiao Port entrance channel.

Also see:
Mailiao Reclamation Site - The Green Area ? (2007)
Pictures from Mailiao (2008)
FPG land reclamation in pink dolphin habitat update (2010)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Update: It's gone ! Total disregard of the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees has gone !

The Taiwan News online has just reported that the last of almost 700 native old camphor trees at the site of the old Songshan Tobacco Factory has gone. Police once again clashed with protesters and failed to protect the tree whose legal status still lies before the courts undecided. Police allowed the removal of the tree to go ahead and failed to arrest those who removed the tree. Once again the Taiwan Police have shown total disregard for the legal process when it comes to protecting the environment.


Disregard for the legal process:- The last of the great Songshan camphor trees

Update: Disregard for the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees

More on the Songshan Tree issue

Songshan: Before and After Photos

Songshan update: case against activists dismissed

Update: Disregard for the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees

Events at the site of the old Songshan Tobacco Factory continue. Yesterday afternoon the police forcibly removed Calvin Wen the Green Party Taiwan candidate for the Da-an District legislative by-election from the last of nearly 700 native old camphor trees at the site of the old Songshan Tobacco Factory after he stayed in the tree overnight to prevent it from being cut down. Despite the fact that the court must still rule on the legality of the project, that the second environmental impact assessment (EIA) has yet to be passed by the Environmental Protection Administration's EIA Committee, and that the zoning procedures are incomplete, the Taipei City Government has allowed the developers to go ahead with the project sparking outrage from environmentalists and local residents who oppose the project who have filed a lawsuit against the government. Instead of the police insisting that legal process is respected and preventing the removal of the tree in question they have chosen to take sides and support the developer and brutalise protesters that have gathered insisting that the removal of the tree is halted until the courts rule on the matter. The unprofessional and brutal conduct of the police in Taipei last November led to international condemnation of their behaviour.

We have learned that Taipei based lawyer and Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association director, Robin Winkler was not amongst those arrested on Friday as the article in yesterday's Taipei Times claimed but was present at the protest. It would appear that there were further arrests yesterday including that of Wang Hsiung-chung, director of Amnesty International Taiwan. It is unclear if Winkler may have been arrested yesterday afternoon or this morning when other protesters were arrested.

See today's Taipei Times for more on the issue. We will continue to bring you updates on the situation at the old Songshan Tobacco Factory.

See:- Disregard for the legal process:- The last of the great Songshan camphor trees

Update: It's gone ! Total disregard of the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees has gone !

More on the Songshan Tree issue

Songshan: Before and After Photos

Songshan update: case against activists dismissed