Tuesday, May 25, 2010

COA reply to Petion Letter

Below is the government's response to the many letters of concern that have been sent to the Taiwan authorities. Once again issues are being smoothed over and not addressed. Taiwan's pink dolphins are listed as critically endangered. That's just one step from extinction! Immediate and meaningful action is the only option to save these dolphins from extinction. A classroom and stranding network only have value within a well coordinated effort that involves the meaningful addressing of all the threats faced by the dolphins. The major threats have been identified as:
- reduced river flow into estuaries;
- habitat loss;
- entanglement in fishing gear;
- industrial, agricultural and municipal pollutant discharges; and
- underwater noise.
Unless meaningful action is taken these dolphins will become extinct, soon ! The unique Taiwan pink dolphins were only discovered by science eight years ago. To date there has been a single stranding in September 2009. The dolphin drowned as a result of entanglement in nets. As the dolphin was already dead when discovered it was beyond rescue. NGOs have been running public education and awareness programs for several years. Books and other information has been published and a film has been produced. A classroom and a yet-to-be-needed stranding network are not going to save the Taiwan pink dolphins. Until the issues of habitat loss, pollution, entanglement, underwater noise and the reduced flow of fresh water into estuaries are addressed these dolphins are being driven to certain extinction. After three international workshops attended by local and international experts there is more than sufficient information available for the authorities to make the decisions needed to save these dolphins. Regrettably, it would appear from their letter that they have no intention of doing so.

Save Taiwan's pink dolphins!
May 20, 2010

Dear Sir/Madam,

Your email concerning protection of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin Sousa chinensis was duly relayed to this Bureau for reply.

Addressing the issue of conserving endangered Sousa chinensis, the National Council for Sustainable Development's Biodiversity Working Group continues its focus on factors threatening the survival of Sousa chinensis, coordinates inter-agency efforts, and monitors future progress. In order to better understand the population, distribution and ecology of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, the Council of Agriculture (COA) has commissioned scholars to carry out projects on habitat survey, food source investigation and monitoring, hot spot assessment, as well as development of comprehensive conservation strategy for the species.

On the public education front, the COA has produced film recordings of the species in both 2008 and 2009. A Sousa chinensis Conservation Classroom was established in Wuci Township of Taichung County in 2009 as well. In addition, the draft plan for "Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin Major Wildlife Habitat" will be scheduled for discussion at the Wildlife Conservation Advisory Committee before the end of 2010. The Fishery Agency will also conduct an assessment to determine whether or not to designate "Fishery Resources Conservation Zone" or "restriction or prohibition of fishing area."

Furthermore, the COA has established Taiwan Cetacean Stranding Network (TCSN) to facilitate speedy response to incidents of injury and stranding of Sousa chinensis. Many issues related to conservation of Sousa chinensis may be difficult to resolve at once. However, government agencies will try their best, and take actions to assure the long term survival of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin in the waters of Taiwan Strait.

Once again, thank you for your concern and suggestions.


Council of Agriculture

Monday, May 24, 2010

An Open Letter from Taiwan Civil Society to the Formosa Plastics Group

On 19 May 2010 as civic groups in Taiwan presented the Ethecon 2009 Black Planet Award to the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) they collectively delivered an open letter to FPG appealling to FPG to use its money in a manner that promotes dignity and a sense of responsibility.

Click to view the open letter to the Formosa Plastics Group.

Also see Black Planet Award for FPG.

Ethecon Black Planet Award:- Dossier on FPG

Update: FPG Bus ad campaign

Greens storm the Formosa Plastics Annual Shareholders Meeting to present the Black Planet Award

Update: Environmental Groups Confront Formosa Plastics Corporation at Annual Shareholders Meeting

Green Groups Storm Formosa Plastics Corporation at Annual Shareholders Meeting - Taiwan's Newspapers Mum

Black Planet Award for FPG

The smokey FPG plant at Mailiao, Yunlin County on the Taiwan west coast

Last Wednesday, the German-based Foundation Ethics and Economics (Ethcon) awarded the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) the Black Planet Award. An international award for "people who have committed themselves to the destruction and downfall of our Blue Planet in an outstanding way."

Current and future FPG expansion in western Taiwan is resulting in the loss of valuable pink dolphin habitat. Additionally, emissions and discharge from FPG and support industries and services results in high levels of pollution which impact negatively on all forms of life in the area, human and non-human alike.

In the run up to the Black Planet Award environmental groups have accused Taipei bus operators of tampering with their advertisements about the award. It would appear that the bus operators had removed the character for the word "shame" (®¢)from the bus ads apparently under pressure from FPG to do so.

We approached a lawyer with the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association for comment and the lawyer explained that "the bus ad regs have no legal basis and likely constitute a violation of the constitutional right of free speech. In practice the ad agents through which this was placed say they never are requested to file an application except in extreme situations involving putative pornography or the like. The regs contain no penalties so this is really a throw back to martial law where they have a bunch of regs in waiting, never enforced until they select someone to go after -- in this case apparently under pressure."

For more see Activists target FPG over award in the Taipei Times.

Watch 2006 Blue Planet Award winner and environmental activist Diane Wilson speaking at the Black Planet award ceremony.

See the Ethcon website for more information and video clips.

Also see An Open Letter from Taiwan Civil Society to the Formosa Plastics Group.

Ethecon Black Planet Award:- Dossier on FPG

Update: FPG Bus ad campaign

Greens storm the Formosa Plastics Annual Shareholders Meeting to present the Black Planet Award

Update: Environmental Groups Confront Formosa Plastics Corporation at Annual Shareholders Meeting

Green Groups Storm Formosa Plastics Corporation at Annual Shareholders Meeting - Taiwan's Newspapers Mum

Formosa Plastics on fire again

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Taipei Times White Dolphin Article - Errors & Comment

It's always good to see the plight of the Taiwan white dolphins receiving coverage in the media. Yesterday, the Taipei Times ran an article titled Taiwanese white dolphins face extinction: activists. While the article does give a brief picture of the plight of the dolphins, it unfortunately contains several errors. Regrettably, these errors seem to be made time and time again despite previous letters of correction for similar articles to the newspaper.

What follows are corrections and some comment on the Taipei Times article. The title of the article, Taiwanese white dolphins face extinction: activists is indeed correct but it should be noted that it's not just "activists" that are saying that the dolphins face extinction.

The threat of extinction to the dolphins is based on published peer reviewed scientific studies and reports. Examples of such publications are the 2004 and 2007 international workshop reports. A list of links to several published papers can be viewed here.

In the article the dolphins are referred to as Taiwan white dolphins. This is indeed one of the common English names given to the dolphins and is also a direct translation of the Hanji [Mandarin] common name. However, these dolphins are more commonly called Taiwan pink dolphins here. The article goes on to say that the dolphins are "known as Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, a species listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] as 'critically endangered' in 2008; now stands at only between 60 and 90 off the west coast." This sentence is incorrect. The Taiwan white [pink] dolphins are a unique Taiwan population of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin. Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis) are a species of dolphin the inhabit coastal waters from the southeast African coast through the Indian and Pacific oceans to southeast China and Taiwan and down to Australia. The species of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin is not listed as critically endangered by the IUCN but rather as near threatened. Only the unique Eastern Taiwan Strait population commonly called the Taiwan pink dolphins is listed as critically endangered.

The article quotes Gan Chen-yi (¥Ì®f©y), secretary of the Matsu's Fish Conservation Union as saying "the Taiwanese white dolphin might become extinct within 10 years if industrial development near the estuary of the Jhuoshuei River is not halted." This looks to be almost certainly a case of something being lost in translation. The use of the word "might" undermines the seriousness of the situation. The IUCN has seen fit place these dolphins on the critically endangered list; just one step away from extinction. These dolphins will certainly become functionally extinct within the next decade unless aggressive measures are taken to save them.

The article is also misleading in claiming that it was previously believed that there were "approximately 200 of the mammals about 3km to 5km off the west coast between Miaoli and Tainan counties between 2004 and 2006" and that the "number had fallen to no more than 100 by 2007, indicating that various industrial and harbor development projects along the western coastline have seriously polluted the dolphin's natural habitat."

The unique population of Taiwan pink dolphin was only discovered in 2002. Researchers began studying them and based on the limited data available from the initial research done, best estimates were that the population could total a maximum of 200 individuals. However, as more data was collected estimates could be refined and it became clear that the population totals less than a hundred individuals at best and in all likelihood is around 70 individuals. The estimate range is between 60-90 animals. A number of clear threats to the dolphins were identified and the results of these threats to date are almost certainly why the population is in such trouble. The major threats to the dolphins are:
- 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;
- noise and disturbance associated with construction, shipping and military activities.

It should be noted that the information given on the life cycle of the dolphins is largely based on general research of the species and may not necessarily fit the unique population of Taiwan pink dolphins. From observations of a known female member of the Taiwan population, her reproduction rate showed a five year period between calves. Data appears to indicate that reproduction amongst the Taiwan pink dolphins is extremely slow and limited. A sure indication that this population is unable to sustain itself and is firmly on the path to extinction unless aggressive measures are taken to allow the population to try and recover.