Sat, Jan 21, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Taiwanese rebuilding their ties to the oceans

By Allen Chen 陳昭倫

Taiwanese people are becoming more aware of the need to preserve the nation's ocean resources, as is illustrated by the recent breakthrough for the coral reef conservation movement when the residents of Green Island refused to allow the fishing industry to continue using electric shock fishing methods. This is a good omen for ocean conservation at the start of the year.

Taiwan is surrounded on all sides by the ocean and small islands, and one would therefore expect its people to have a healthy relationship with the sea. In the last few decades, however, as we have been taught to think of the country as confined by its island status, the ocean that surrounds us has taken on negative connotations. We plunder the sea, plug it with earth to reclaim land for ourselves, and barricade the coasts of our "fortress island." Our unbridled fishing, the pollution that flows from our rivers into the sea, and the incessant dessication of the reefs, are all products of our fear, abuse, and lack of understanding of the sea.

Now, however, we are reaping the fruits of this behavior: our fishing resources are drying up, the water table has subsided and is flooded with sea water, our water and products are polluted with hormones, heavy metals and chemicals from medicines. On top of this there are also oil spills and fishing disputes. How is it that the Taiwanese, formerly children of the ocean, have become estranged from the sea?

When the Taiwanese Coral Reef Society was established eight years ago, it was the first interest group that aimed its full attention at promoting ocean conservation. The past few years have seen a number of major events in ocean conservation, with 1997 designated as International Year of the Coral Reef, 1998 declared International Year of the Ocean, and 1999 seeing identification of the advent of worldwide coral reef bleaching. Taiwan is starting to feel the influence of these movements.

Nevertheless, the last five years have seen more frustrations than successes in coral reef conservation, and ironically most of these frustrations originate from the government. It has proven difficult to get the huge, ungainly government departments into motion, and the tide of unrestrained consumerism and tourism, egged on by promotions in the media and by museums, seems impossible to stem.

But there is one ray of light among the successive defeats suffered by the coral reef conservation movement, and that is the growing awareness of the need for conservation among the residents of Taiwan's coasts. After many years of education and the efforts of volunteers, both the Hengchun Ocean Conservation Association and the Green Island Conservation Association were established last year. This is very significant, as it demonstrates the awakening of a new consciousness, of the need to protect our oceans, and also because the initiative is no longer being dictated by the government, but is being driven by the people themselves.

This time, the residents of Green Island have taken it upon themselves to make a video of the situation in the seas off their coasts, record the number of surviving coral reefs, and prohibit electric rod fishing boats in their ports. The Hengchun Ocean Conservation Association is also faced with the damage wrought to the coral reefs in Kenting by an endless stream of tourists.

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