Clean up your act

Efforts to restore and protect Taiwan’s beaches and nature spots reach a national scale

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Thu, May 16, 2019 - Page 13

A UN report last week that 1 million species face extinction from human impact on the environment was the latest ominous forecast by scientists on the health of the planet.

According to the landmark report, plastic pollution in oceans has increased tenfold since 1980, affecting at least 267 species of marine life. Marine pollution can also affect humans through food chains.

Taiwan is no exception to growing evidence on the impact of human activity on marine life. The country’s extensive coastlines, measuring a total of 1,520km, are a massive stage in this struggle for the environment.

In March, a pregnant Cuvier’s beaked whale was found washed up on the Chongde (崇德) coast in Hualien County. A postmortem showed that its stomach chambers were filled with four gunny sacks, six plastic bags, two fishing lines and several pieces of debris.

It’s no isolated incident. Every year, more than 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles worldwide get caught in plastic-based ghost gear — abandoned fishing gear such as nets, lines and traps.

In the face of an environmental onslaught, groups of volunteers are coming together across Taiwan on May 25 for the Taiwan National Clean Up Day.

The annual initiative to clean up garbage from natural environments has been organized by Taiwan Adventure Outings since 2017. Last year, volunteers spread out to 14 locations island-wide and removed over four tonnes of garbage from coastal and other natural areas.

This year, the effort has expanded to 20 locations. Among the new locations are tourist hotspot Yehliu Geopark (野柳地質公園) and Longdong (龍洞) in New Taipei City, popular with scuba-divers and rock-climbers. The goal is to remove 10 tonnes of garbage.

American Ryan Hevern, co-founder of Taiwan Adventure Outings, says that participating in the clean-ups allows people to see up-close the impact that plastic consumption has on the environment.

The “out of sight out of mind” mindset is real, he says, “and the mindset that someone else will fix it is too.”

When people get their hands dirty picking up garbage, however, the problem becomes much harder to ignore.

Cleaning up beaches once a year, or even once a month, may not equate to “transformative changes” to restore and protect nature, which the authors of the UN report have called for. That requires a paradigm shift and the commitment of governments and entire industries.

But it’s a step in the right direction. Hevern is optimistic that participating in a nature clean-up can inspire long-term behavioral changes at the level of the individual.

“We hope [we] can impact change on a ground level, raise awareness and... influence a positive change in people’s daily routines,” he says.

‧ For more information and to sign up for Taiwan National Clean Up Day, visit: