A study published in the journal Scientific Reports this week said that spending at least two hours a week outside enjoying nature can significantly boost health and well-being. While the study, which used data from a Natural England survey of 20,000 people, was based in the UK, it could certainly apply to people in other countries, and could fit neatly into central and local government efforts to encourage more people to leave their homes and offices, and explore the nation.
However, whether nature in Taiwan would be able to survive such expanded contact with humankind seems highly questionable in light of recent news reports, not to mention some long-standing problems.
A diver faces prosecution under the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法) for allegedly stomping on a green sea turtle on Siaoliouciou Island (小琉球) on Monday, an incident that was caught on video by an island resident. There is also video footage of people driving all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) plowing onto Kenting beaches and tearing up the sand, as well as ATVs being used to ferry tourists wanting to get close to Formosan sika deer in the Shueiwajue Community (水蛙崛) in the Oluanpi (鵝鑾鼻) area.
The driving incidents took place last month in areas under the remit of Kenting National Park, and park authorities came under fire this week for not taking more assertive action. The park administration has reiterated that ATVs are only allowed on the beach during rescue operations. It said that the ATVs had not been rented to tourists and inspections had found no contraventions of regulations.
As for the deer pursuits, it said it would investigate whether any tour guide rules had been contravened.
While the park said that perpetrators would be fined in accordance with the National Park Act (國家公園法), that assertion was undercut by its deputy director saying that it was the park’s custom to give first-time offenders a warning.
Park officials are neglecting their primary duty, which is to protect the environment and the wildlife under their care, not to mollycoddle ignorant people seeking cheap thrills and the tourism industry.
The park administration appears to be hiding its collective head in sand torn up by those ATVs. It does not matter if the rules say that ATVs are only allowed on Kenting beaches during rescue operations when it is evident that people are flouting those regulations; the video footage is proof that the park must be more proactive in ensuring that such vehicles cannot access the beach, be it through stepped-up patrols, signage, fencing or other steps.
By the same token, it should not be investigating whether there have been any contraventions of tour guide rules in the deer incident; the video footage is proof that rules were broken. Its investigation should focus on who, not if.
The lack of appreciation for nature and wildlife in Taiwan has long been clear, given the priority put on destructive tourist and industrial developments in pristine areas, and the appalling levels of pollution — from manufacturing and individuals — that have been tolerated, as Chi Po-lin’s (齊柏林) heartbreaking 2013 documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above (看見台灣) so vividly showed.
The staggering amounts of trash left annually at parks, beaches and along mountain trails nationwide also shows the disdain with which too many people treat nature, even when they are enjoying it.
Everyone should be able to enjoy nature, but they should also respect it.
Those in charge of protecting the land and wildlife should enforce the law, whether the offenders are litterers, ATV joyriders, tour companies, manufacturing giants or developers, before the idea of spending two hours per week enjoying nature becomes just a pipe dream.
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