A survey conducted by the Taiwan Environmental Info Association (TEIA) showed yesterday that the coral reefs around Siaoliouciou Island (小琉球) in Pintung County had the lowest living coral coverage in the nation, an indication of a deteriorating marine environment caused by the island’s overdeveloped tourism industry.
The association started conducting a nationwide survey of the nation’s coral reefs last year.
This year, the survey was undertaken from June to October.
TEIA researcher Lin Yu-chu (林育朱) said the volunteers who participated in the survey followed the standards adopted by the -international community when evaluating the soundness of the coral reefs.
A high-quality coral reef, for example, has a minimum of 50 percent to 75 percent of its area covered by living coral. A medium-quality coral reef, on the other hand, has a 25 percent to 50 percent living coral coverage rate. Reefs with a coverage rate below 25 percent are considered low-quality coral reefs, Lin said.
Meanwhile, volunteers also calculated the number of fish species around the reefs, such as butterfly fish, generally considered an accurate indicator as to the health of the living coral.
Lin said the TEIA volunteers examined areas near the nation’s Northeast Cape, Dongyu (東嶼) in Penghu County, Siaoliouciou Island, as well as Shanyuan (杉原), Green Island (綠島) and Lanyu (蘭嶼) in Taitung County.
They found that most of the nation’s coral reefs are of medium quality. The ones in Siaoliouciou’s Geban Bay (蛤板彎) and Beauty Caves (美人洞) as well as those in Longdong (龍洞), Bitoujiao (鼻頭角) and Fanzaiao (蕃仔澳) in the Northeast Cape were found to be low-quality.
Specifically, Lin said that Geban Bay and Beauty Caves had a living coral coverage of less than 10 percent. Divers were also only able to find medium-quality coral in Fanzaiao 15m to 21m under the sea, which was beyond the normal observation range of 8m to 12m, she said.
The high-quality coral reefs were all in Penghu, Green Island and Lanyu, which are less--populated outer islands belonging to Taiwan.
Lin said Siaoliouciou, formed by coral reefs, had the lowest living coral coverage rate due to the overdeveloped tourism industry on the island and the overexploitation of fishery resources.
Although coral reefs near Green Island appeared to be in better condition, volunteers found that blue-green algae is endangering the existence of the reefs in this area. TEIA department director Sun Hsiu-ju (孫秀如) said that this year’s results showed that the quality of coral reefs around the nation was not improving at all.
While urging the government to take immediate action to preserve the reefs, Sun said it also needs to address soil and water conservation issues in the forest areas.
“The rains brought by Typhoon Morakot washed away tonnes of mud and sand in the mountains into the ocean, which also threatened the development of coral reefs,” she said, adding that the government needs to consider appropriate complementary measures when developing “eco-tourism,” including how it plans to process the sewage discharged by an increased number of hostels.
The public, meanwhile, should also be educated about the proper way to consume seafood to ensure the sustainable development of fishery resources, Sun said.