An endangered Black-faced Spoonbill in southern Tainan: photo courtesy of Richard Yu.
Conservationists have become increasingly concerned over the future of the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill (Platalea minor) as numbers of wintering spoonbills in the Chiku Protected Area in Tainan nose-dived this winter.
For years, flocks of tourists from around the world have been coming to Chiku in the Zengwen estuary to enjoy the sight of hundreds of Black-faced Spoonbill feeding in this wetland. Chiku is known as globally the major wintering area for this endangered IUCN Red-listed species. However, this year, many tourists went away disappointed. The number of Black-faced Spoonbills in the protected area has fallen drastically. Winter spoonbill counts have numbered above 1600 in previous years. Shockingly, the count was a mere 246 this December 2010. By the 2011 Lunar New Year, the spoonbills had all but disappeared with numbers often being in single digits inside the protected area.
According to the Black-faced Spoonbill Ecology Exhibition Hall Facebook page, the count on April 6 was just 89 spoonbills within the protected area.
On April 7 and 8, Taijiang National Park and the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute (TESRI) will jointly hold an international conference to discuss possible causes for the decline in the number of endangered Black-faced Spoonbill in southern Taiwan.
Though no causes have been determined, initial investigations suggest that environmental disturbances such as industrial activities, Air Force training in the area, the effects of the flood of 2009, and possibly others, may have forced the birds to go elsewhere to seek food.
Spoonbills have been sighted in other areas of Tainan, Beimen, Budai, and other parts of the Yunlin-Chiayi coast; areas where they are not typically found in high numbers. Indeed, this is a most alarming development. Large birds such as spoonbills act as an indicator species. These birds are clearly showing that something is very wrong on Taiwan's south-west coast. We need to seriously think about so-called developments along Taiwan's west coast such as the planned Kuokang Petrochemical Project on the central-west coast and the impact they are having on endangered species like the Black-faced Spoonbill, Taiwan pink dolphin, Saunders's Gull and a host of other threatened species. We'll be watching events at Chiku closely.
Black-faced Spoonbill Ecology Exhibition Hall