Wednesday, July 14, 2010

KK Petrochemical Plant: Why Should the White Dolphins “Just Go Around It”?

What follows is a translation of a letter written by Allen Chen, a specialist with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Task Force on Marine Life Extinction, to the China Times newspaper that highlights the lack of peer reviewed science in the environmental impact assessment process regarding the Kuokuang Petrochemical Park Development.

China Times
KK Petrochemical Plant: Why Should the White Dolphins “Just Go Around It”?
12 July 2010

By Allen Chen*

* this translation by Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association has not bee reviewed or approved by the author.

"If we want to solve the enigma of Premier Wu’s statement that “the white dolphins know how to go around[the Kuokuang Petrochemical Park Development]” we need to first take a look at the environmental impact assessment report submitted for the project to be built in the Tacheng wetlands of southern Changhua County. We will then also gain a better understanding of what worries lie behind the statement that “the white dolphins can just go around it”.

Owing to the fact that the population of white dolphins in the eastern Taiwan Strait have been classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are given the highest protection under Taiwan’s Wildlife Protection Act, the Kuokuang Petrochemical hired National Taiwan University Professor CHOU Lian-siang, the woman known as “Taiwan’s Cetacean Expert” and “Auntie Cetacean”, to undertake the surveys for KK’s environmental impact assessment. Professor Chou’s reports point out that the distribution of the white dolphins of the eastern Taiwan Strait have two “hot spots”: one from Miaoli to Changhua, and the other at the Waisan Sanbar off the coast of Yunlin County.

Chou’s report asserts that along the shores of southern Changhua County – from Changhua to Yunlin – the dolphins only engage in “cruising”, “feeding”, “strolling”, “socializing” and for the most part only “strolling”, so that at most, the area can be said to be “an important area for passing through”. These conclusions conveniently enable KK to come up with their “passing through/no obstruction/added training” logic that the white dolphins can just “go around”. They also go on to suggest “mitigation” by having the government place fish and audio attractors in order to train the dolphins to go through the industrial park. Thus, the origin of the Premiers’ WU Dun-yi’s let them “just go around it” theory.

These sorts' conclusions are not only stunning for their crudeness; they are also cause for grave concern.

First and foremost is the concern with this “developer /academic expert authority”. Scientific evidence requires multi-party review and defence, particularly in matters involving national development and the interests of the people. Solid and persuasive scientific evidence must be subject to rigorous review, specifically so called “peer review” and ideally this evidence would take the form of a paper published in an international scholarly journal. However the survey reports commissioned by KK have been reviewed only by commissioners in connection with the environmental impact assessment process that the project is currently undergoing. There has been no review with any of the thoroughness of peer review that would meet a submission for publication in an international journal.

The developer is very happy to have the kind of endorsement from academia that it has received so far in this case, this “developer/academic expert authority” demonstrated in this case, if of the kind that has occurred in Taiwan for decades and is largely responsible for a slew of highly polluting development projects of questionable long term value.

Secondly, the role of scholars has become horribly muddled. The person known as Taiwan’s only expert on cetaceans is on the one hand taking on government-sponsored projects to survey the distribution, ecology and behavior of the eastern Taiwan Strait white dolphins, while at the same time she is also accepting similar assignments from the proponents of the KK petrochemical project. So in the course of evaluation and assessment of the conservation of dolphins and protection of wetlands on the one hand, versus the impacts of development on the other, we now have the same person taking on the role of the judge and the adjudged.

It is precisely this kind of failure of academics to act independently of vested interests that is exacerbating damage to dolphin and wetlands conservation.

Third, we are ignoring work by internationally known scholars and instead relying on EIA surveys that are based on or developed from sloppy and inaccurate studies. In the year 2007, a leading international journal, Mammalia, published an article describing the important habitat of the eastern Taiwan Strait white dolphin as running from Houlong in Miaoli County right through to the Waisan Sandbar in Yunlin County. This is surely sufficient evidence that the area – including the Dacheng coast of southern Changhua County must all be included as protected waters for the animals. However, there has been no citation of this by either the government or the developer.

Rather, they use the non-peer reviewed surveys and reports of the EIA to come up with superfluous “hot spots” and then go on to give erroneous explanations of the significance of those hotspots. If done in accordance with the IUCN marine reserve guidelines on the designation of “hot spots”, it should be done so based on the distribution of the animals and preserve natural corridors for their unobstructed access.

The IUCN guidelines most definitely do not contemplate the building of an eight hundred meter wide “man-made corridor” and then training the dolphins to “just go around”. The failure of the Hong Kong Airport project to achieve a win/win solution for the dolphins is a painful example right before our eyes.

Fourth and finally, the incompetence and structural inability of government officials is the biggest cause for concern behind the premier’s ridiculous theory of how the dolphins will cope with the construction of the KK petrochemical park. The agency in charge white dolphin conservation, the Council of Agriculture, simply needs to “act in accordance with the law.” In accordance with the Wildlife Protection Act the COA has the legal authority to designate the area from Houlong in Miaoli County to the Waisan Sandbar in Yunlin as important habitat for the white dolphin. This is no different than the declaration of the habitat of Taiwan’s national treasure -the Taiwan salmon- the Cijiawan River as an important habitat. All the farming and fruit orchard activities in the area of the Cijiawan River and its tributaries are forbidden.

However, in the face of a challenge from a major development project such as the KK petrochemical park and port, the Council of Agriculture lacks the competence as well as the institutional ability to follow its own mandate.

If we know full well that “only by taking care of the oceans can we take care of the white dolphin and only by taking care of the white dolphin can we take care of humanity”, can we afford to slack off on the conservation of the white dolphin?

The author is Associate Research Fellow at the Biodiversity Research Center of Academia Sinica and a Specialist with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Task Force on Marine Life Extinction

• 2010-07-12
• 中國時報
• 【陳昭倫】
 要解開吳院長為什麼說出「白海豚會轉彎」這個謎團,需 先回顧國光石化在彰南大城濕地開發案的環境影響評估報告,也因而更能理解「白海豚轉彎」背後的隱憂。
 由於東台灣海峽白海豚族群是國際保育聯盟(IUCN)白 海豚列極度瀕危族群,是台灣野生動物保護法列管的一級保育類動物。國光石化因此委託「台灣鯨豚專家」和「鯨豚媽媽」等稱號的台大周教 授環評調查。周教授報告指出,東台灣海峽白海豚分布於兩個「熱點」,苗栗到彰化和雲林外傘頂洲。而彰化到雲林間的彰南海域 剛好只是白海豚「繞圈」、「覓食」、「遊走」、「社交」區域,只是「遊走」行為居多,所以彰南一帶至多只是個「重要的通過區域」。這 樣結果恰好給了國光石化延伸出一套「通道/不妨礙/加以訓練」,白海豚可以轉彎繞路的邏輯,建議政府可以透過食魚誘餌或聲音引導,訓練誘導白 海豚通過工業區。這也就誤導行政院長說出白海豚會轉彎的由來。
 第一,「開發廠商/學術權威」共生結構。科學證據需多方審查與辯證,尤其牽涉到國家發展與人民利益問題時,強而有力的科學證據必虛經嚴格的審查,特別是所謂同儕的審查,最好是由國際的相關學術期刊進行審議。然國光石化所委託的調查報告,除了 環評會議的委員之外,跟本無法透過類似國外研究期刊或是同儕審查方式進行。開發廠商更樂於有學術權威的背書,這樣「開發廠商/學術權威」所形成共生結構的例子,在台灣過去幾十年來通過許多高汙染的大型開發案屢見不鮮。
 第二,學者的角色極度混淆。當號稱台灣唯一的鯨豚專 家同時接受政府公部門委託計畫調查東台灣海峽白海豚的分布生態、行為等研究,確也同時接受國光石化開發廠商的委託案。對於白海豚保 育、濕地生態保護和開發之間的評斷與角色扮演,既是判官又是被判者。無法獨立於利益之外的角色扮演,更加重對於白海豚保育 與濕地保全的傷害。
 第三,忽略國際和依賴粗糙與錯誤衍生的環評調查。二○○七年發表於國際學術期刊「哺乳動物學」(Mammalia)的研究早已指出從苗栗後龍一路到雲林外傘頂洲是東台灣海峽白海豚族群的重要棲息海域,這 就足夠證明包括彰南大城海域皆是必須列為保護範圍的海域,然而,這些皆不被政府和開發廠商引用。反而是依照未同儕審查和為發表的環評 報告,劃蛇添足的去找出分布「熱點」,更錯誤的詮釋與衍生熱點的意義。如果是根據IUCN海洋保護區劃設的「熱點」原則,應 該是依據物種分布特性,維持天然廊道的暢通,而不是蓋個八百公尺寬水道作為「人工廊道」去訓練白海豚轉彎。香港機場的例子,就是一個 非常失敗的前車之鑑。
 第四,公部門的無能與無奈才是白海豚會轉彎這個謬論最大的隱 憂。主管白海豚保育業務的農委會只要「依法行政」,據野動法的要求將苗栗後龍一路到雲林外傘頂洲公告為東台灣海峽白海豚族 群重要棲息地,就如同將七家灣溪列為國寶魚台灣鮭魚重要棲息地方法一樣。任何在七家灣溪和附近台灣鮭魚可棲息的溪流範圍,所 有高冷蔬菜與水果皆要禁止。但白海豚分布的海域確面臨重大開發案的挑戰,在配合政府施政要求下,農委會顯得無能更是無奈。
 要知道,「只有健康的海洋,才有健康的白海豚;只有 健康的白海豚,才有健康的人類」。保護白海豚豈能鬆懈?(作者為中央研究院生物多樣性研究中心副研究員,IUCN瀕危海洋物種工作小 組專家群)

Also see:
Press Release: Pink Dolphins vs Kuokuang Petrochemical – Who is in Whose Way?

Taipei Times editorial says the dolphins might be smarter than Premier Wu

Buy a patch of land, help save a dolphin! - Taiwan NGOs to present 'wet' land trust application to the government this Wednesday (7 July)

EPA to abide by court ruling on science park but....

Plans to buy another 800 hectares of wetlands to save pink dolphin habitat and to protect threatened birds and marine life

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