Cooperating with Taipei’s Environmental Protection Bureau may seem dull at first glance — calling in noticeable pollution, trash in the river and dead fish — but one man decided to spruce things up by collaborating with local community colleges in an effort to teach people the importance of environmental protection and why he was helping out.
At 68, Wang Sheng-chin (王勝欽) heads the Keelung River Sigau Volunteer Patrol Team that he founded and has devoted himself to volunteer work for 13 years.
“I [previously] devoted my entire life to my job and even became a director of internal affairs at an airline,” Wang said.
“Being hit by acute appendicitis made the transience of life startlingly clear, and I took it as a sign from ‘on high’ that I should retire and live the life I want,” Wang said, adding that after his illness he embarked on a new chapter of his life.
However, Wang said that his redirection was not an easy path, and when he retired in 2001 — the year the central government passed the Voluntary Service Act (志願服務法) — he was surprised that examinations were required for would-be volunteers.
Wang said that it was during the process of gathering data for the examinations that he realized that, despite his many years of living in Taipei, he was a complete stranger to the city’s environment and landscape.
“How could I hope to give back to society when I knew nothing of the environment in which I lived?” Wang asked.
Founding the Keelung River Sigau Volunteer Patrol Team in 2008 with others sharing his interest, Wang began collaborating with the bureau to conserve the environment along the Keelung River (基隆河).
The word “sigau” comes from the Ketagalan people, signifying a favored hunting ground of the tribe in the past and being the word for “river bend.”
The team’s average age is about 60, with about 20 members, who focus their conservation efforts on the stretch of the Keelung River between Chengmei Bridge and the Dazhi (大直) area.
Wang bikes along the river, looking out for any changes in river ecology, such as large pieces of litter, dead fish or pollution.
“People fishing in the Keelung River and the fish they catch are good indicators of pollution levels,” Wang said.
Wang said that in heavily polluted waters, Mozambique tilapia are most often caught, and in waters with medium levels of pollution, fishermen often find either Prussian carp or flathead mullet.
Lightly polluted waters tend to yield Opsariichthys pachycephalus and grouper, while non-polluted waters offer up Onychostoma alticorpus, Wang said.
Sadly, people fishing in the river only manage to get Prussian carp on the best of days, Wang said.
Working with the bureau, Wang quickly realized that its methods lacked inspiration and could easily lead to monotony, so he took the initiative to collaborate with Songshan Community College to better educate local people and motivate his team.
If people became more attached to the river through learning its history and the culture of the people living nearby, they would become more motivated to protect it, Wang said.
Short tours focusing on ecological conservation along the Keelung River and the historical-cultural symbolism of the Sigau area have been scheduled since March last year, Wang said.
The development of Songshan District (松山) was closely tied to Sigau Port on the Keelung River, Wang said.