‘Moonscape’ heritage needs to be protected

By Lu Ching-fu 呂清夫  / 

Thu, Feb 08, 2018 - Page 8

Protests broke out after a mechanical digger damaged part of the “moonscape” at Nioupu Borough (牛埔) in Tainan’s Longqi District (龍崎).

Nioupu Borough Warden Chen Yung-ho (陳永和) quit his business and turned to politics to protect the local “moonscape,” which local residents think of as a national treasure, and now he is staging a vigil in front of Tainan City Hall to protest the government’s exploitation of the environment and the contractors’ aggressive actions.

While the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act (文化資產保存法) talks about preserving “natural landscapes,” the act’s enforcement rules only mention “natural remains,” and people never hear about “natural remains” being officially designated as such. All they hear about is monuments being damaged or destroyed just before they are officially designated, because the government is always one step behind.

The development planned for Nioupu’s “moonscape” is a landfill. To make matters worse, it is located near the begining of a river, as well as in a seismically active fault zone, in violation of the Geology Act (地質法).

The Tainan City Government claims that the contractor is working on “water and soil conservation,” but aerial photographs show the contractor stripping the mountain ridges by felling trees. What kind of “water and soil conservation” is that?

Local residents expected the area to become a geological park, because when Premier William Lai (賴清德) was campaigning for election as mayor of Tainan, one of his pledges was to develop tourism. Building a landfill would obviously not help that.

Environmental conservation groups also warn that building landfills in earthquake-prone areas will spell disaster for future generations.

Among the attractions at the “moonscape” is a mud volcano. Last year, locals built a “home for aliens and UFOs” entrance for it, including a big flying saucer that looks as though it has landed among the hills.

The spaceship theme, which was designed by Chen, has a mainly blue color palette that contrasts with the mudstone. Having contributed creatively, Chen and other residents are all the more determined to conserve the “moonscape.”

The “moonscape” is a chalk formation, the high alkalinity of which makes it difficult for grass and trees to grow, except for drought-resistant thorny bamboo. This infertile environment has preserved the original topology, which otherwise would have vanished long ago.

There are several “moonscapes” in southern Taiwan, among which those in Kaohsiung’s Tianliao (田寮) and Yanchao (燕巢) districts, Tainan’s Nioupu and Caoshan (草山) areas and Taitung County’s Beinan Township (卑南) have mud volcanos.

Locals think these formations are world-class, but this has escaped the attention of the Ministry of Culture’s Bureau of Cultural Heritage.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention classifies natural heritage as “natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view.”

The US has many world heritage sites, including the Grand Canyon, and the Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks. The roughness of the Grand Canyon stands in contrast with the finesse of Taiwan’s “moonscapes,” making the latter worthy of being UNESCO natural heritage sites.

As well as having typical landforms that are spread over a wide area, Taiwan’s “moonscapes” also feature mud basins. If these are not examples of natural heritage, then what is?

Lu Ching-fu is a professor at Fu-Jen Catholic University’s department of applied arts.

Translated by Julian Clegg