Sun, Dec 01, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Garbage damages Taiwan’s coastline

By Chen Chung-ling 陳璋玲

Taiwan’s coastline stretches for 1,600km. Much of it is very beautiful, but it is being spoiled by the plastic bags, cigarette butts, plastic bottles, nylon rope, used fishing nets and discarded polystyrene that can be seen while strolling along many of the nation’s beaches.

Kenting (墾丁), at the southern tip of Pingtung County, is a popular place for marine tourism, and those who have been there and ventured across to Nanwan (南灣), a small bay west of Kenting, are certain to remember the bridge next to Nanwan Bay.

First, there are the scenes on top of the bridge, where jet ski operators try to entice tourists to rent a vehicle and take to the water. Then, there’s the far more unpleasant sight of piles of trash lying under the bridge and spilling out into the water.

When we see things like this, instead of simply choosing to ignore it, we should also ask ourselves how we ever let so much trash get thrown into our seas, why the related departments have not done anything about the issue and why our tourist destinations still need to undergo so much improvement.

Marine debris is a serious environmental problem. It impacts the survival of marine life, destroys coral reefs, causes financial loss to the fishing industry, threatens maritime safety and impedes the development of marine tourism.

When scientists discovered large patches of garbage floating in the north Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean, the severity of the problems caused by marine debris was made even clearer.

I once conducted research on the handling of waste produced by fishing ships out at sea. This research attracted the attention of an editor, who invited me to write a paper about the management strategies for marine debris used by different countries.

I discovered that many international organizations, regional organizations and national governments have already rolled out a great number of measures for the management of marine debris.

These include the US government’s marine debris program, the EU’s marine strategy framework directive, which lists marine debris as something that needs to be regulated and states that this goal must be reached by 2020. Another example is the Marine Litter: A Global Challenge report by the UN Environment Programme’s Regional Seas Programme.

In Taiwan, however, it is very rare that administrative departments offer long-term plans and actions for solving this problem, and only a small group of environmental conservation organizations use events like beach cleanups to keep up public awareness of marine debris.

Although the government has been successful in promoting resource recycling policies and limiting the use of plastic, which have been of great help in minimizing the amount of debris put into our oceans, the nation is still lacking in terms of the long-term monitoring and testing of marine debris, inter-ministerial management strategies for marine debris and cooperation between the government and the public, and these factors have meant that the problem of marine debris has not yet been solved.

I for one do not want to imagine what things will be like if we are one day unable to see our beaches, oceans and types of coastline scenery because of a buildup of rubbish.

If this happens, the government’s slogans about saving the ocean will indeed seem very ironic.

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