Mon, Mar 07, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Reef protection needed: expert

UNDER THREAT The coral reef in Cape Tofu in Ilan County is a prime location for ecotourism, but development projects in the works could damage the ecosystem

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Researchers last week observed a large broadclub cuttlefish swimming around the coral reef at Cape Tofu, one of the potential site that could be designated as a marine protected area.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE TAIWANESE CORAL REEF SOCIETY

Data on Taiwan's coral reefs regularly given to the UN for its report on the status of the world's coral reefs will become insufficient if tourism development projects near Cape Tofu, Ilan County, go ahead as planned, ecologists say.

While conducting research at Cape Tofu last week in Suao Township, Jeng Ming-shiou (鄭明修), a zoologist from Academia Sinica observed a 6kg, 40cm-long broadclub cuttlefish swim freely.

"It's a typical coral reef species," Jeng said. "They're usually between 20cm and 30cm long. Obviously, the cuttlefish live on the abundant food provided by coral reef's ecosystem."

Jeng said Cape Tofu is regarded as one of the most ideal places for coral to grow in northern Taiwan. Currently at the site, coral covers 39.5 percent at 3m in depth. However, the coral reef system goes as deep as 10m in depth. So far, researchers have observed more than 40 kinds of coral at the cape.

Located on the east side of the fish port of Nanfangao, Cape Tofu comprises of rocks that resemble tofu. The natural bay blocks violent waves, preventing coral from being damaged by ocean currents.

As early as in 1930s, Japanese researchers observed evidence of coral breeding at the site. In July, 1939, Siro Kawaguti found a great deal of planulao (free-swimming coral larvae) at the shallow part of the bay in Suao. Kawaguti's report titled An Abundance of Reef-Coral Planulae in Plankton was published in a Tokyo-based zoological magazine in 1940. Jeng said that the report is regarded as the first documented evidence of coral breeding in the world.

"Thanks to relatively low development over the past few decades, coral reef ecosystems at the site remain undamaged. It's now not only an ideal home for fish, shrimp, crab and other water creatures, but also a potential ecotourism site," Jeng said.

Since 1998, Cape Tofu has been one of 27 monitoring sites where researchers from the Taiwanese Coral Reef Society examine the status of coral reefs. The society gives the data on the reef as part of UNESCO's analysis of coral reefs in 96 countries around the world, and alerts authorities when there is a change in its status.

However, Jeng says potential development projects at the cape threaten not only the reef itself, but also the society's ability to report on the reef.

"I'm afraid that the coral reef data at the site would become silenced as of next year," He said. "Sand and pollutants from new construction along the coast will definitely deteriorate the environment. Precious coral will be damaged and ecosystems there will be negatively affected."

Developers plan to build a luxury hotel on private land and rent state-owned land covering more than 10 hectares of nearby coastal area for the establishment of a recreational beach. One of the development plans involves the filling of half of the cape to lift the sea floor by 1.5m so tourists can enjoy the water.

However, local divers said that these projects would lead to the disappearance of the precious diving area. Chu Yung-shang (朱永盛), a senior diving instructor of over 30 years said that Cape Tofu has been treasured by divers for years. Hundreds of divers from four local diving associations in Ilan regularly remove garbage and sludge on the sea floor, and educate tourists not to disturb the coral.

"In winter or summer, calm water inside the gulf allows one to enjoy the biodiversity there," Chu said.

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