About a hundred protesters gathered on Ketagalan Boulevard yesterday, calling on the government to stop the construction of a nationwide highway circuit project in order to protect an ancient trail in the south of the nation.
The 12km-long Alangyi Ancient Trail (阿塱壹古道), which runs between Taitung and Pingtung County, was established in the 1870s and used by Aboriginal tribes to travel along the Pacific coast.
To protect the trail and prevent the construction of a section of the new Taiwan Provincial Highway No. 26 that would reportedly cut through the trail, Pingtung County Government extended its designation as a temporary nature reserve from July last year to Jan. 31.
Protests against the potential destruction of wildlife and the environment along the trail have continued since the construction project passed an environmental impact assessment review in 2002.
The group of protesters, consisting of members of civic and environmental groups, carried banners that read: “Save the white dolphins and green sea turtles” and “Stop the construction of Highway No. 26,” during the protest.
Hung Hui-hsiang (洪輝祥), chairman of the Pingtung Environmental Protection Union, said the last undeveloped area along the trail is an important habitat of an endangered species — the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). About 26 of the turtles were spotted in the area a few years ago, but only about 18 have been seen in the past two years, Hung said.
Although the area has been put under protection by the Pingtung County Government, if the review committee does not agree to extend the deadline, construction of the highway could continue once the deadline expires at end of the month, Hung added.
The Alangyi activists also asked legislator-at-large candidates from all the different political parties taking part in next Saturday’s election to sign a statement supporting their cause.
Some lawmakers and legislative candidates from the three major parties joined the protest to support the activists’ cause.
Noted essayist and environmental activist Chang Hsiao-feng (張曉風) of the People First Party said the environment should not be sacrificed for economic benefit.
“If the land is no longer suitable for turtles to lay their eggs, it is also not suitable for human beings to raise their children,” she said.
“It is not only a trail, but home to creatures that have undergone millions of years of evolution,” Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said.
“A large public consensus has been reached. We advise the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to suspend construction [of the project],” said former Environmental Protection Administration deputy minister Chiu Wen-yen (邱文彥), who has been nominated by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on its legislator-at-large list.
According to the protesters, so far more than 59,000 people and 900 groups have signed a petition in support of preserving the natural environment at Alangyi.
The groups also demanded that the government use a NT$3.8 billion (US$126 million) fund earmarked for the development of the highway to establish a fund for the promotion of low-carbon lifestyles in Hengchun (恆春), Pingtung County.
Additional reporting by CNA