The Tourism Bureau is to put the fate of the iconic “Queen’s Head” (女王頭) rock formation at Yehliu Geopark in New Taipei City (新北市) in the hands of the public by holding a opinion poll, after geological experts said that the circumference of the rock’s neck has decreased drastically due to natural erosion and man-made damages and could break off in five years.
The poll, which is to ask respondents whether they prefer letting the formation wear away naturally or rescuing it by artificial means, is to be conducted early next year via telephone, the Internet and among visitors to the geopark.
The 4,000-year-old mushroom rock, which was shaped by waves and wind into a form that resembles the profile of the UK’s Queen Elizabeth I, has been a popular attraction among local and overseas tourists, drawing a record 2.69 million visitors last year.
However, due to natural erosion and tourists touching the rock, the circumference of the “queen’s neck” has decreased at a rate of about 2cm per year, dropping from 144cm in 2006 to 126cm this year.
If the current pace of erosion continues, the rock’s “neck” could become too thin to support the head’s weight and will break off in five years, experts said, adding that the “head” could fall off sooner if battered by gusts of 13.9m/sec or stronger or by earthquakes with magnitude greater than 3.0.
Concerned about the sandstone’s condition, the formation’s North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area (NCGNSA) brought together a group of specialists to explore techniques for “thickening” the rock’s neck.
NCGNSA director Chen Mei-hsiu (陳美秀) said experts from National Taiwan University’s Institute of Polymer Science and Engineering, Institute of Applied Mechanics, geography department and geosciences department were hired by the agency in 2011.
“After several experiments, the experts found that weathered sands could be consolidated to the extent that it possessed the same hardness as sandstone, which would be highly resistant to erosion after applying a nano hole-sealing agent,” Chen said.
Chen said the technique could help improve the rock formation’s erosion resistance and thicken its neck, effectively slowing down its erosion rate.
However, the color of the add-on to the neck would remain the same all year round, rather than changing to gray in summer and black in winter as sandstone does, Chen said.
Yehliu Geopark deputy general manager Tang Chin-hui (湯錦惠) said that from the perspective of sustainable tourism development, the many people hoped the formation could be rescued.
“However, some experts in geology and environmental education have argued that the formation of the ‘Queen’s Head’ and the break-off of its neck are part of the natural cycle of life and death, and that no artificial means should be used to prolong its ‘lifespan,’” Tang said.
The bureau said several academics have been invited to attend a public hearing at the park at 2pm today, where they could see the results of the experts’ experiments and voice their opinions.