Tue, Sep 04, 2012 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Advocates hoping a rezoning can boost island’s conservation

ROCKY FUTURE:Hoping Island’s unique geological formations are threatened by inconsiderate tourists and security there must be boosted, groups have said

By Jake Chung  /  Staff writer, with CNA

“Tofu rocks” on the coast of Hoping Island Park, near Keelung City, are seen sloping into the sea on Saturday. The park, which is famous for the largest expanse of “tofu rocks” in Taiwan, reopened to the public in June after three years of renovation.

Photo: CNA, courtesy of Chen Chien-chih.

The Hoping Island Beach Park, with its vast expanse of “senjojiki” and mushroom-shaped rocks, offers a geological treasure trove for both academics and residents of the Keelung area. However, Keelung locals and environmental groups have said that the park is not being adequately protected, pointing first to a 1,000 ping (3,300m2) wastewater treatment plant that was finished in 2008 and also to an incident in which four junior-high students ruined one of the mushroom-shaped rocks “just for fun” in March this year.

Parts of what is now the park had been under military control for a long time, which meant that people were banned from the area. However, after the ban was gradually lifted in the 1960s and 1970s, more tourists began to explore the vulnerable coastline. Parts of the park were closed for the past three years while renovation work was undertaken and the entirety of the park was opened to the public in June this year.

The “Back Garden,” as locals call the park, is no longer the trash-littered place it once was and the protection of the park has been outsourced to a security and management company.

However, the company’s chief executive, Chen Chien-chih (陳建志), says the firm remains helpless in the face of the damage being done to the park’s unique geological formations and that its employees could do nothing beyond asking tourists not to damage the area, but have no actual powers to stop them.

The island park’s scenery is phenomenal and it is possible to see many geological wonders within the 20-minute round-island hiking trail, Chen said.

The vast expanse of flat square rocks which have been carved into the rocky beachhead resembles thousands of Japanese tatami mats placed on top of one another, which is why the coastal feature has been named senjojiki — literally meaning thousands of tatami mats atop each other, Chen said.

Chen also said seawater has crafted the rocky formations by eroding the tiny joints within the rocks and has, over many years, cut a chessboard-like maze of small squares into the flat rock, resembling chunks of tofu.

Chen said the park affords tourists and visitors a fantastic view of the Keelung coastline, which lies across the strait separating the island from the mainland.

“We plan to build a number of elevated walkways or maybe change the radar stations — which were left over from the period when the island was under military control — into viewing platforms for tourists,” Chen said.

However, Chen said the park lacks infrastructure and other equipment, adding that there was also a shortage of tour guides.

“We need to build a pathway that keeps the tourists from actually touching the ground, something akin to the scenic routes in Yehliu Park — only then can we be certain that we are protecting the park’s geological formations while letting tourists get closer to nature,” he said.

According to Keelung City Government’s Department of Transportation and Tourism, the park is considered “land for park use” and any damage the island suffers must be dealt with as part of the legal framework within Keelung’s Regulations on Park Management and Autonomy (公園自治條例).

However, the punishment for infractions is light and it is difficult to gather evidence, making it hard to effectively stop vandalism within the park, the department added.

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