Saturday, February 28, 2009

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

Green Party Taiwan's Calvin Wen in the in the last of nearly 700 old camphor trees, which are native to Taiwan, that have been removed for a development project of which the legal basis is currently being challenged in the courts and of which the environmental impact and zoning procedures are not complete.

Click to enlarge. A collage of the destruction of Hushan. Despite the legality of the Hushan Dam project being challenged in court and the Environmental Protection Administration's (EPA) own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Committee (EIA) ruling that the construction of Hushan Dam was illegal and ordering work stopped, the EPA gave developers the green light to continue by saying the ruling of the EIA Committee was non-binding. The legality of all this is highly questionable and the court has yet to rule on it. Whether their projects are legal or not, despite EIA's being incomplete, it has become an alarming trend in Taiwan that developers aren't waiting for the courts to decide on the legality of their protects but continue with blatant disregard for the courts and legal process and just forge ahead often with the support of the government and police.

The late Edward Abbey said "At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, 'thus far and no further.' If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoroeau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, 'If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour.'"

Civil disobedience is an emotional and moral question. What does one do when developers aren't waiting for the courts to decide on the legality of their projects but continue with blatant disregard for the legal process and just forge ahead often with the open support of the government? This was the dilemma that protesters were faced with on Friday.

The Songshan Tobacco Factory was established under Japanese colonial rule in the 1930s. The area has remained an open green area supporting wildlife in the heart of Taipei for many years. After the factory was closed in 1998 the area was further able to revert back to its natural state and become covered in thick vegetation and has become a vitally important oasis for wildlife within Taipei providing critically important habitat for several rare species. In 2006, the Taipei City Government signed a contract with the Farglory Group to build a 429,000m² cultural and sports dome complex costing around US$695.9 million on the site. Environmentalists and local residents oppose the project.

Despite serious environmental concerns the construction project passed a 'first' environmental impact assessment (EIA) but the developer made changes to the project so a second environmental impact assessment had to be done and this remains before the Environmental Protection Administration's EIA Committee which still have to pass or reject it. Despite the second EIA still being before the EIA Committee the city government has allowed Farglory, the developer, to continue its work, prompting environmental groups to file a lawsuit against the government.

On Friday February 27, environmentalists, Green Party Taiwan members and local residents rushed to the old Songshan Tobacco Factory site when it became known that the last of almost 700 native old camphor trees was to be removed in a bid to try save it. The role of the police in this once again highlights the draconian attitude of the police under the Ma regime. Instead of the police acting as officers of the Peace and saying to the developer that the legality of the project was undecided so therefore please refrain from removing the tree until the EIA Committee and court have given their rulings they chose to act as henchmen in trying to evict protesters from the site. As it became clear that the police were openly siding with the developer, protesters stood their ground. Green Party Taiwan's Calvin Wen, the party's candidate for the Da-an District legislative by-election, stopped workers from removing the tree by climbing up into the tree and refusing to come down and stating that "You should wait for the court rulings and the results of the second environmental impact assessment to come out. You should respect the legal process." The police then forcibly removed protesters and some where arrested. Wen remained in the tree preventing its removal. As of 9:00am this morning (2009-02-28) Wen was still in the tree after 20 hours.

This issue and resulting incident once again highlight the seriousness of the Taiwan government's lack of respect for the rule of law, ignorance of sound environmental management and a total disregard for the environment and the issue of climate change by proceeding with all manner of development projects that are not reviewed or supervised due to pressure from conglomerates and their sponsored legislators and council persons.

This is just one of many cases. The construction of the Hushan Dam continues despite the EIA Committee ordering construction to stop and the legality of the entire project remains before the courts. The developers have removed the forests of Hushan forever with a total disregard for the rule of law. Reclamation projects at Mailiao continue despite the fact that it is destroying large areas of the little remaining habitat of the critically endangered Taiwan Humpback Dolphins. All this is done to further develop heavy-polluting extremely high carbon emitting industry around the world's dirtiest coal-powered power plant. This goes on in total disregard for the need to meaningfully cut Taiwan's alarmingly high CO2 emissions which are amongst the very highest per capita CO2 emissions on the planet. As long as the government continues to disrespect the rule of law, refuses to change their policies to meaningfully protect Taiwan's environment and act against reducing emissions, then, civil disobedience is the only option open to those that desire a more healthy, greener and sustainable Taiwan.

We will continue to bring you updates of the situation.

Also see:
Taipei Times:- Green Party Taiwan halts tree removal at site of old Songshan Tobacco Factory

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: Before and After Photos

Songshan update: case against activists dismissed

Friday, February 27, 2009

Groups urge COA to protect at risk Chinese White Dolphins

Taiwan Humpback Dolphin mother and calf. Unless something meaningful and decisive is done now to save these unique dolphins this is a picture of the last generation of Taiwan Humpback Dolphin (photo courtesy of FormosaCetus).

The China Post:- "Three conservation groups yesterday petitioned the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture (COA) to act to safeguard the critically endangered Chinese White Dolphin from becoming extinct in Taiwan waters."

We do appreciate it when the media highlights the plight of the Taiwan Humpback Dolphins. In this article perhaps a few comments are necessary for clarity. The article states that three conservation groups petitioned the COA. A total of eight NGOs were involved:- Taiwan Academy of Ecology, Taiwan Sustainable Union, Taiwan Environmental Protection Union, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, Wild Bird Society of Yunlin, Changhua Coastal Conservation Action, Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union, and Taiwan Friends of the Global Greens.

The Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin (Sousa chinensis) [AKA Chinese White Dolphin, Pink Dolphin] has a wide distribution from the east coast of South Africa up along the African east coast then across following the shallow coastal waters of the Arabian Sea on through India and the Bay of Bengal, down into South East Asia to northern Australia, and across into south east China and western Taiwan. The Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin is listed on the IUCN's Red List as Near Threatened. The unique population of these dolphins found along Taiwan's central-west coast is arguably the most threatened population of dolphins on the planet and this unique population is known as Eastern Taiwan Strait (ETS) Humpback Dolphin subpopulation and it is listed in the IUCN's Red List as Critically Endangered. The population size of these dolphins is less than a hundred. Analysis of the data collected during 2007/2008 tends to point at a figure of likely less than seventy.

The [Taiwan] COA is not able to list the dolphin as 'critically endangered.' Only the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the world body responsible for the Red List of protected species can do that. The COA can list the dolphin as a protected species in Taiwan. All cetaceans [whales and dolphins] are protected in Taiwan so the listing of the humpback dolphin as a protected species is nothing new. This dolphin has been listed as protected for years and that is the very point that conservation groups are making*. These dolphins have been listed as protected under Taiwan law for years but yet the Taiwan government has failed to take any concrete steps to actually protect them.

In early 2008 the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group (ETSSTAWG) was established [also see Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group]. ETSSTAWG is a working group of some of the world’s top marine mammal scientists that offer expert guidance in supporting the conservation of the beleaguered population of ETS humpback dolphins in Taiwan.

After two international workshops [2004 & 2007] on the the ETS Humpback Dolphins, advice from ETSSTAWG, and both local and international petitions and protests, the government, despite its so-called concern for these dolphins, has failed to take any concrete steps to protect these unique dolphins and their habitat and in so doing are actively contributing towards their functional extinction by their complacency. Unless something meaningful to protect these dolphins is done now, these dolphins will be very soon gone forever !

Also see:
PRESS RELEASE: Conservation Groups Push Harder for Government Action to Save Dolphins

Taiwan Humpback Dolphin-Information Sheet

Taiwan Humpback Dolphin Pamphlet

* Indo-pacific Humpback Dolphins are found around the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen Island just off the coast of China's Fujian Province. The Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin was listed by the [Taiwan] Council of Agriculture (COA) as protected because of these dolphins occurring in Taiwan waters. This listing predates the 2002 discovery of the Eastern Taiwan Strait Humpback Dolphins by several years so the listing of the humpback dolphin as a protected species by the COA is nothing new.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

PRESS RELEASE: Conservation Groups Push Harder for Government Action to Save Dolphins

Taipei, Taiwan – February 26, 2009 – Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, a public interest organization dedicated to protecting Taiwan’s natural environment, will be participating in a protest held by eight Taiwanese conservation NGOs to decry the lack of government action to address well-publicized threats to Taiwan’s critically endangered Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis). The protest will be held on Thursday, February 26, 2009 shortly before a closed-door meeting to be convened by the Biodiversity Division of the National Council of Sustainable Development.

The meeting will be only the second to be held since the government agreed more than a year ago to formulate a humpback dolphin conservation action plan and hold multi-stakeholder discussions to facilitate implementation. With no action plan in sight and no remedial action having resulted from the first meeting, NGOs insist that the government must do better.

Although NGOs have provided many detailed scientific documents describing the state of the population, the coordinates of their habitat and the main threats they face (entanglement in fishing gear; air, water and noise pollution; habitat loss; and reduction of freshwater flow into estuaries) government agencies still cite a lack of data as standing in the way of decisions, while simultaneously failing to invite key local and foreign dolphin experts who could offer the most up-to-date data on the population and help formulate effective solutions.

Wild at Heart has pointed out that, despite the apparent consensus that data on the dolphins are vital to assessing the types of action needed, the research team that has been surveying the dolphins since 2002 has been excluded from the Division’s meetings. Additionally, while the Environmental Protection Administration has been discussing the possibility of a meeting of experts regarding the dolphins, government financial support for any of the foreign experts nominated by Taiwan’s leading environmental groups to attend any meetings of this type have been paltry at best.

The government has only offered foreign dolphin experts subsidies for transportation in Taiwan and a NTD 2,000 (USD 62.50) attendance fee. This suggests the government’s unwillingness to invest any money in this issue, especially in light of its eagerness to spend millions each year to bring foreign business interest groups to Taiwan.

“We are deeply disturbed that the government has chosen not to invite some of the most relevant experts on Taiwan’s humpback dolphins for discussions on conservation strategies,” says Christina MacFarquhar, spokesperson of the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association. “This strongly suggests a lack of seriousness on the part of the government about obtaining a true understanding of the nature of the peril these dolphins are facing.”

NGOs are calling for immediate official designation of the population’s habitat, the drafting and rapid implementation of a conservation action plan, funding of transportation for experts they have nominated to participate in discussions, and frequent meetings to be held and made open to the public.

Participating NGOs:
Taiwan Academy of Ecology, Taiwan Sustainable Union, Taiwan Environmental Protection
Union, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, Wild Bird Society of Yunlin, Changhua
Coastal Conservation Action, Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union (Planning Office) and Taiwan
Friends of the Global Greens (Planning Office).

About Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association:
Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association is a public interest organization dedicated to promoting efforts to restore a healthy relationship with nature. The association, established in August 2003, works for the purpose of restoration, conservation and preservation of the Taiwan's fragile environment. Wild at Heart is also the secretariat for the Matsu's Fish Conservation Union. For more information please visit

For Press Inquiries, Contact:
Christina MacFarquhar
(886-2) 2382-5810

Also see:
Groups urge COA to protect at risk Chinese White Dolphins

Thursday, February 5, 2009

URGENT: Sign-on today to a letter of concern regarding LDEO seismic surveys in SE Asia (FR 78294)

In recent posts we have highlighted concerns over a series of marine seismic surveys using a large airgun array from the Langseth, planned for the waters of SE Asia (including the EEZs of Japan, Taiwan, China and the Philippines) from March 21 to July 14 2009 by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) at Columbia University, as part of the TAIGER project. These surveys are believed to have the potential to impact, in some cases quite significantly, on a considerable number of vulnerable, poorly understood or in some cases critically endangered populations of cetaceans in the highly biodiverse yet relatively poorly studied waters of this region.

Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association (a member group of Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union) will deliver its comments, concerns and recommendations* to the NMFS later today (before the deadline of 1700 EST on Thursday 5 February). Wild at Heart and Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union welcome your support in helping prevent unnecessary and potentially disastrous harm to Taiwan’s critically endangered humpback dolphins as well as a range of other marine mammal populations in the waters of Taiwan, China, Japan and the Philippines by signing on to this letter.

If you would like to sign on, please send an email to: before 1600 EST today (5 Feb) giving your full name and organisation/other affiliations you would like to add, and Wild will add your name to the letter. The letter can be viewed by clicking HERE.

* This letter is based on scientific reviews of the project documents, one carried out by a marine mammal scientist with great experience with marine mammals in this region (click here to view), and the other prepared by the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group (ETSSTAWG) (click here to view).

Alternatively, if you would prefer to send an email to NMFS yourself, please copy and paste the following into an email, add your name (and organization or other affiliations as appropriate) at the bottom, and send to: PR1.0648– and, with a blind copy (Bcc) to if you want us to see your response.

For your information, the Federal Register notice and additional documents related to this activity can be found at the following NMFS web-pages:

Federal Register notice
Environmental Assessment


5 February 2009

Michael Payne
Chief, Permits
Conservation and Education Division
Office of Protected Resources
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD, 20910–3225

Comments and recommendations regarding application for Incidental Harassment Authorization for marine seismic surveys in SE Asia from March 21 to July 14 (FR 78294).

Dear Mr. Payne:

I would like to express my concern over the application by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) for a marine seismic survey proposed to be carried out in south-east Asia from March 21 to July 14, by endorsing the following comments and recommendations, as prepared by Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, Taiwan.

1. The EA contains several erroneous claims, omissions and unacceptable proposals with regards to the critically endangered ETS population of humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis)

The distinct, isolated Eastern Taiwan Strait (ETS) population of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) was listed under the IUCN Red List in August 2008 as “Critically Endangered”. This was partly due to its small population size (<100) and the numerous threats present in its limited habitat along the west coast of Taiwan, the main threats being: bycatch; underwater noise; reduction of freshwater flow to estuaries; habitat loss through land reclamation; and air and water pollution. Several international workshops and peer-reviewed reports have highlighted the urgent need to reduce these threats in order to avoid pushing this population closer to extinction, and aid its recovery.

 Sixty-eight point seven percent - the percentage of the ETS humpback dolphin population which LDEO has applied for permission to take - constitutes an indisputably high percentage of the population; over two-thirds cannot be reasonably argued to constitute a “small number” of dolphins in any context, let alone the context of there being less than 100 in existence. The requested level of impacts of this survey therefore exceeds the coverage provided by IHAs.

 Even the high number of dolphins estimated in the EA to be potentially harassed does not accurately reflect the potential impact, as the entire ETS humpback dolphin habitat could be ensonified at received levels of >160dB re 1μPa (rms), with some dolphins being exposed to received levels of >180dB (rms), given that the survey tracklines pass within 1 km of shore (or 2km if proposed mitigation measures are applied) and therefore directly through the shallow, narrow, linear coastal ETS humpback dolphin habitat which extends to 5km from shore.

 The level of harassment for which LDEO has applied for permission (level B) is inappropriate for a survey which threatens to expose ETS humpback dolphins to received levels of >180dB re 1μPa (rms), which can cause permanent physiological damage and would constitute at a minimum level A harassment.

 When considered in the context of a population that is estimated to be unable to sustain an annual loss of one individual, and the fact that noise levels > 180dB (rms) may cause serious injury or even death while noise levels >160dB and indeed <160 dB (rms) may influence behavior or act in combination or synergy with existing threats (e.g. increasing the likelihood of injurious or deadly interactions with boats and gillnets), the proposed survey does not merely threaten to cause minor impacts to individuals – it clearly poses a significant threat to the future existence of the population.

 The claim in the EA that the impacts of the TAIGER survey will be minor and short-term “[b]ecause human activities in the area of the proposed seismic survey are high” (EA p. 79) is illogical and reflects a serious misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the nature of cumulative and synergistic effects. Impacts predicted to result from this seismic survey must be viewed with no less seriousness than any other new stress factor, i.e. they should be treated as impacts that could threaten the continued existence of the population.

 Recent estimates of habitat boundaries and noise buffer zones specifically for the ETS humpback dolphins are not referred to yet could have easily been acquired through consultation with the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group (ETSSTAWG). The existence of this expert advisory team dedicated to ETS humpback dolphin matters was brought to the attention of one of the principle preparers of the EA by the director of Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association in an email dated 19 September 2008.

2. The proposed mitigation measures are inadequate and do not sufficiently allow for local marine mammal observation conditions – weaknesses which augment the risk of impacts in a region where cetacean status and distribution are relatively poorly understood

The lack of reliable information from systematic surveys in the relatively poorly-studied SE Asian region, as in other regions, necessitates the highest levels of precaution in estimating and attempting to mitigate potential impacts. Even best practice marine mammal visual observation, shut down and other measures can provide no guarantee against significant impacts on populations in these regions (given, for example, inherently low observation sighting rates for species such as beaked whales and evidence that some species decrease or cease vocalizing in response to seismic surveys). However, LDEO has not attempted to adopt all available precautionary measures that may help to reduce impacts.

 With tracklines overlapping known and suspected habitat for beaked whales, which are known to be particularly sensitive to acoustic impacts, extremely difficult to detect visually, and already facing numerous threats (including acoustic) within their habitat at least in Taiwanese waters, and with almost no data on abundance for beaked whales in SE Asia (as reflected by the IUCN Red List status of three species in the region as “Data Deficient”), there is a clear potential for significant impacts on beaked whales, and hence a need for great precaution.

 Similarly, abundance and other data in SE Asia for sperm whales, which are known to ‘startle’ in response to seismic surveys and to face numerous threats in the SE Asia region (including acoustic), are unknown, justifying precautionary measures.

 There is a risk that dolphins from the Jiulong River Estuary (JRE) population of humpback dolphins, which is of similar size (<90) and faces similar threats to the ETS population, may also be exposed to received levels >180dB, again exceeding the type of take for which LDEO has applied.

 The anticipated presence of female finless porpoises and their calves in the survey region during the surveys is of great concern, particularly given the fact that these animals will likely be difficult if not completely impossible to detect visually at distances at which they may still be exposed to noise levels > 190dB (rms), and do not vocalize at all times.

 The potential impacts on western north Pacific humpback whales in the waters of the Babuyan Islands (believed to be calving and nursing grounds for a small population of humpback whales) and Taiwan (e.g along the east coast and in the Taiwan Strait) and the fact that surveys will occur during the northward migration of mothers and calves is worrying. Mothers and calves may be more sensitive to acoustic disturbance and are probably more susceptible to the impacts of stress responses to disturbance of any kind.

A lack of understanding of the distribution and status of the abovementioned and other species and populations highlights the need for greater precaution and investigation prior to carrying out seismic surveys in this region. However several proposed monitoring and mitigation measures do not reflect the need for precaution, for example:

 The proposed number of marine mammal visual observers is insufficient (a minimum of only one observer working during daytime operations, except for 30 minutes before and after ramp up when this will be increased to two observers)
 Nighttime seismic surveys could be (but are not) prohibited, meaning impaired effectiveness of MMVOs and greater reliance on PAM, which provides no certainty of detection of animals that are not vocalizing.

An IHA should not be granted for the proposed survey because:

 the number of ETS humpback dolphins that LDEO proposes to harass and the likely level of harassment both exceed the levels for which an IHA should be granted.

 the number of ETS humpback dolphins to be harassed is likely to exceed a sustainable level of take for this critically endangered population and is therefore unacceptable.

 the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures are inadequate to detect or avoid impacting several species which are endangered, particularly vulnerable to noise impacts, extremely difficult to detect (e.g. ETS humpback dolphins, beaked whales and finless porpoises) and generally poorly understood.

 the timing of the surveys shows little or no regard to periods of migration through or near the survey locations for some species (e.g. humpback whales).

 the EA reflects serious misunderstanding and error in the analysis of potential cumulative impacts where such impacts matter greatly.

 While it may be true that some of the planned monitoring and mitigation measures “would reduce the possibility of injurious effects”, the monitoring and mitigation measures cannot be argued to prevent the possibility of injurious effects, which are highly likely to occur. The claim in the EA that “[n]o long-term or significant effects are expected on individual marine mammals…the populations to which they belong, or their habitats” is ill-founded and should be reconsidered in light of the above concerns.

 In the event that no attempt was made by LGL to consult with the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group (ETSSTAWG) prior to completion of the EA, we would recommend that this be done immediately with a view to clarifying some of the concerns relating to harassment of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, and that similar consultations be held with other experienced researchers throughout the region in question.

 Finally, we are aware that that this LDEO survey proposal is one of a very small number or requests for authorization for geophysical surveys while other user groups, including the oil and gas industry, are not carrying out such environmental assessments or are not subjected to public scrutiny in this way. Rather than allowing the focus to be limited to geological surveys such as LDEO’s, we recommend that measures be taken to ensure that all future marine seismic surveys (whether of an academic or commercial nature) are made subject to the same level of scrutiny and transparency, such as by requiring EAs or EISs to be submitted for professional and public review and with all relevant documents (including post-survey reports and relevant local permits, authorizations and licenses) being made publicly available.

Yours sincerely,

Also see:
Quake Study update: NGOs warn quake study could harm Taiwan's critically endangered Humpback Dolphins

Update: SE Asia LDEO seismic survey review 28 Jan 2009

Comments sought for impact on marine mammals by proposed geophysical survey in SE Asia

Update and continuing concerns regarding Incidental Harassment Authorisation for L-DEO marine seismic survey in SE Asia

Quake Study update: NGOs warn quake study could harm Taiwan's critically endangered Humpback Dolphins

The Matsu's Fish Conservation Union secretariat, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association and other animal activists are calling on the U.S. government to reject a proposal by the Columbia University-affiliated Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (L-DEO) to conduct earthquake studies on Taiwan’s sea floor. The full story can be found in an article in today's Taipei Times: Group warns quake study could harm rare dolphins

Also see:
URGENT: Sign-on today to a letter of concern regarding LDEO seismic surveys in SE Asia (FR 78294)

Comments sought for impact on marine mammals by proposed geophysical survey in SE Asia

Update: SE Asia LDEO seismic survey review 28 Jan 2009

URGENT: Sign-on today to a letter of concern regarding LDEO seismic surveys in SE Asia (FR 78294)

Update and continuing concerns regarding Incidental Harassment Authorisation for L-DEO marine seismic survey in SE Asia