Next year’s presidential election is approaching and hotly contested party primaries are unfolding. At this time the question is who will be able to protect the Taiwanese humpback dolphin, which attracted international attention in May last year when it was listed as endangered by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and in 2017 when a research paper documenting severe injuries by fishing gear appeared in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms.
Since Canadian academic John Wang (王愈超) discovered the dolphin — a subspecies of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin — in 2002, it has met with constant setbacks.
In 2004, research found that the dolphins lived along Taiwan’s west coast, but also that there were less than 100 of them.
In 2007, the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association took the initiative to invite international academics to discuss conservation measures. The meeting listed five major threats to the dolphins’ survival, and the association suggested that the government demarcate the habitat and take immediate conservation action.
In August 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature described the dolphin as “critically endangered” on its Red List of Threatened Species.
In 2009, the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group confirmed that the dolphins’ habitat covered the area from Miaoli County’s Long Fong Fishing Port (龍鳳漁港) to Tainan’s Jiangjun Fishing Harbor (將軍漁港). Their suitable habitat extends north to New Taipei City’s Tamsui (淡水) and Sanzhi (三芝) districts and south to the Zengwen River estuary in Tainan’s Cigu District (七股), but their population has fallen to about 70.
Academia Sinica researcher Allen Chen (陳昭倫) and Yongan Fishing Harbor fishers recently discovered Taiwanese humpback dolphins on the algal reef in the coastal waters off Taoyuan’s Datan Borough (大潭).
This shows that the area is a breeding ground for a diverse array of aquatic species, a rich ecological resource and a secure hunting ground for dolphins.
Neighboring waters are also important fishing grounds for local fishers and a vital resource for maintaining their traditional livelihoods.
CPC Corp, Taiwan’s planned construction of a third liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal near Datan Borough would involve both land reclamation and construction along the coastline, which would not only damage the local ecology, but also harm the dolphins.
The movement to save the Taiwanese humpback dolphin — a species that is native to Taiwan and a marker for the health of global oceans — not only accords with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, it is also vital for the preservation of the cultural identity of oceanic peoples.
The government must intervene and prevent the planned construction of CPC’s LNG terminal. It should also designate Datan Borough’s algal reef as an environmental protection area and a protected ecological wetland, as well as establish a sustainable fishing zone in the surrounding waters.
It should also immediately fund a breeding program for Taiwanese humpback dolphins.
If these measures can be carried out, the diversity of Taiwan’s marine ecology can increase and future generations will be able to continue fishing in Taiwanese waters, visit the algal reef and catch a glimpse of Taiwanese humpback dolphins.
Saving the Taiwanese humpback dolphin and building a sustainable environment is not a choice for our generation to make; it is about future generations’ rights.
Yang Chang-ling is a senior researcher at Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming and Edward Jones
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