Lawmakers, environmentalists and academics yesterday urged the government to set up a specialized marine conservation agency and establish a wildlife habitat for the endangered Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, saying that in the past decade its conservation had made no progress.
At a press conference held on the eve of Earth Day, the environmentalists revealed a hand-carved wooden statue of the sea goddess Matsu (媽祖) with Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins — dubbed “Matsu fish” (媽祖魚) because they often appear along the west coast around the goddess’ birthday this month.
Lin Shin-yi (林新義), an Aboriginal artist who made the statue, said Matsu is the most-worshipped goddess in Tainan and he is glad to help inspire more people to help protect the rare animals.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇), said there are only about 80 Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins off Taiwan’s western coast, which is even fewer than pandas, and a number that may lead to extinction within 10 years.
Although halting the proposed naphtha cracker project by Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co in 2011 was helpful in reducing harm to the species’ population, coastal pollution and overfishing still threaten the dolphins survival, she said.
The dolphins’ survival is threatened by noise, water and air pollution, insufficient food supply and fresh water, as well as dangerous fishing methods, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Foundation founder Robin Winkler (文魯彬) said, adding that the government must act quickly to solve these problems.
“The dolphins inhabit an area about 200km in length along Taiwan’s western coast, and swim only in shallow waters about 3km off the coastline,” Academia Sinica Biodiversity Research Center research fellow Allen Chen (陳昭倫) said. “There are more than 6,000 fishing boats working in this area, and fishing methods such as bottom trawl and drift gill net cause the most harm to the dolphins.”
Chen cited a study published last year as saying that more than 30 percent of the dolphins in Taiwan’s population have been hurt, including a few with serious wounds caused by boat propellers.
“The biggest problem is that the government lacks a comprehensive plan on marine affairs,” Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Wen-yen (邱文彥) said, adding that case by case intervention is not the ultimate solution to the increasing marine issues, such as the protecting algal reefs and dolphins, or defending fishing rights.
The groups urged the government to establish an agency that specializes in marine conservation in the Council of Marine Affairs, and to designate a legally protected major wildlife habitat or refuge.
Forestry Bureau Conservation Division director Guang Li-hao (管立豪) said as communication channels with fishermen and companies took many years to establish, the bureau has finally submitted to the Executive Yuan for approval yesterday a document proposing the establishment of a major wildlife habitat for the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin.
If the proposal is approved, the bureau will pre-announce the designation, and the designation will come into effect if no objections are filed within 30 days after the pre-announcement, he said.