Wed, Jul 14, 2010 - Page 3 News List

Premier backtracks amid criticism of dolphin claims

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Activists perform a skit outside the Environmental Protection Administration in Taipei yesterday calling for better protection of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins — Sousa chinensis — whose habitats they say are threatened by industrial development along Taiwan’s coastline.

PHOTO: WANG YI-SUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Criticized by environmentalists over recent remarks that dolphins would make a detour to avoid a planned petrochemical plant in the coastal wetlands of Changhwa County, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) yesterday said the matter deserved more discussion.

“It is an interesting issue and deserves careful study,” Wu told reporters.

The premier said his remarks were derived from Chou Lien-siang (周蓮香), a professor at the Institute of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at National Taiwan University, and Chen Bao-lang (陳寶郎), chairman of Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Company Ltd (KTPC), which is behind the plant proposal.

“They are both dolphin experts. You can go ahead and ask them,” Wu said.

Wu made the controversial remarks on Wednesday last week when asked to respond to concerns over the impact of the plant on the endangered dolphins.

“Dolphins know how to make a detour in the waterfront at Taichung harbor, why can’t they do the same in Changhwa?” he asked.

Environmental groups responded in anger, but Wu on Saturday remained intransigent, saying: “It is well known that dolphins know how to detour when necessary. If not, dolphins kept in ocean parks would often run into the walls of the pool they’re kept in.”

Describing dolphins as a kind of “fish,” Wu said it would be very simple to “catch them.”

“If fish couldn’t turn, you wouldn’t need satellite systems to detect their location and you could catch as many as you want, as long as you put fishing nets in front of them,” Wu said.

KPTC, a subsidiary of CPC, Taiwan Corp (台灣中油), intends to build refineries on coastal wetlands in Dacheng Township (大城), Changhua County, near the mouth of the Jhuoshuei River (濁水溪).

To save the wetlands, environmentalists and oyster farmers have launched a campaign to raise an environmental trust fund to purchase them. While admitting he was not a dolphin expert, Wu said he agreed with Chou and Chen.

Chou, who was commissioned by KTPC to assess the impact of the oil refinery on the ­environment, said in her report that the Sixth ­Naphtha Cracking Plant in the coastal zone in Yunlin County did not stop dolphins from swimming northward and swimming back, while skirting the plant in the process.

Wu yesterday said the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) initially said KTPC should build a corridor in the area to provide the dolphins with a migratory path to swim north and south, but Chen opposed the plan, saying it would cost NT$30 billion (US$932.5 million).

At a June 9 meeting held by the EPA to discuss the impact of the project on dolphins, Chen said: “Dolphins are as smart as I am. If there were something blocking the road on my way to a restaurant, I would find a detour.”

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