Tue, Aug 20, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Maybe we should just kill all the white dolphins

The possible extinction of the Taiwan white dolphin is a result of close ties between government and industry, and a mentality of short-term industrial development

By Robin Winkler

Two white dolphins frolic in the waters off Taiwan’s west coast.

Photo courtesy of Yang Si-chu and Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union

Taiwan’s pink dolphins were estimated to number fewer than one hundred when they were listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2008 as critically endangered, one step away from extinction. The most recent report from the Council of Agriculture (COA) in January this year suggests the numbers are likely around 50. There is no doubt that the population is in decline, and quite possibly facing extinction two decades after their discovery in 2006.

At a public hearing last week on wildlife conservation, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Man-li (陳曼麗) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alicia Wang (王育敏) addressed the need for revising Taiwan’s Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法) to better protect endangered species. The agency in charge of the act, the COA’s Forestry Bureau, agreed to meet with interested parties and come up with draft amendments in time to present to the fall term of Taiwan’s legislature.

My interest is in the conservation of the Taiwanese White Dolphin (Sousa chinensis taiwanensis), Taiwan’s sole endemic cetacean, scientifically discovered in 2002 and on which I have been working for the past 13 years.

In 2006, I was a member of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Committee, an independent committee under the Environmental Protection Administration that reviews all major development projects, and has legal authority to reject a development proposal if found to be detrimental to the environment.

During a meeting on a steel plant proposed by the Formosa Plastics Group, I was introduced to the Taiwanese White Dolphin. The steel plant, which eventually was relocated to Vietnam, wreaking havoc on that country’s central coastal fisheries, was to accompany construction of the multi-billion New Taiwan dollar KK Petrochemical plant in the relatively remote area of Yunlin County (at the time I was able to find detailed highway maps of every county in Taiwan except Yunlin). Both of these were to have been built alongside Formosa Plastic’s existing massive petrochemical industrial park known as the Sixth Naphtha Cracker or Mailiao Industrial Park.

DOLPHINS VS INDUSTRY

Two scientists who discovered the Taiwanese white dolphin testified at the April 2006 steel plant meeting. It was at that point that the tide of unquestioned development in Taiwan began to change. Quite likely, the Taiwanese White Dolphin — they are actually pink when alive, and their Chinese counterparts (Sousa chinensis chinensis) in Hong Kong are known as “the pink dolphins” — was responsible for stopping the KK Project, the Formosa Steel Project as well as a number of proposed power plants and other industrial development along Taiwan’s west coast.

The favored habitat of the pink dolphins, the shallow coastal and estuarine waters within just a few kilometers from the coast running from Tainan to Taoyuan, happens also to be favored by gill net fishers: of the remaining animals a majority of the pink dolphins bear serious scars from nets, and death resulting from entanglement is likely the most serious cause of the population’s decline.

However, and somewhat ironically given the apparent conflict between gillnetters and dolphins, this area is also extremely “favored” by industry as a dumping area for polluted discharge (air and water), land reclamation and other cementification projects, noise and most recently and notably, the NT$100 billion offshore wind farm development. The off shoe wind project is touted by the government as one of the most significant industrial projects in Taiwan’s history and has attracted major energy companies, banks and other investors from Europe, Canada, Singapore, Japan and most recently the US. It also has significant local support from government, industry and, because of being “green energy,” the general public.

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