Thu, May 10, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Siaoliouciou seeing ‘garbage explosion’

TRUE COST:It is not expensive to buy a bag, but it is expensive to ship it back to Taiwan proper, as the island must do with its excess waste, an environmentalist said

By Hsiao Yu-hsin and William Hetherington  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

A reusable lunch box and bag are pictured on Pingtung County’s Siaoliouciou Island on April 4, as part of a local restaurant owner’s push to promote environmentally friendly dining utensils.

Photo: CNA

Garbage on Pingtung County’s Siaoliouciou Island (小琉球) has increased five-fold over the past six years, local officials said, calling for the establishment of a conservation area on the island.

Siaoliouciou has become increasingly popular as a domestic tourism destination, drawing more than 1 million visitors last year alone, which has created a surplus of garbage that must be regularly shipped back to Taiwan proper for disposal, the officials said.

The current tourism model is not sustainable, and a conservation area must be established to protect the island’s fragile ecosystem and allow for tourism to continue, they added.

Tourism to the island exploded after uncrewed aerial vehicles became popular, allowing visitors to photograph the island’s coastline and sea turtles foraging for food off the coast of Flower Vase Rock, a unique rock formation that is popular with tourists, officials said.

The sea turtles and other marine life are being disturbed by tourists who attempt to approach and feed them, they added.

Three years ago, environmentalists applied to the county government to have the areas around the rock and Beauty Cave (美人洞) — a solutional cave with fossilized shells and coral — turned into conservation areas, which would restrict the activity that could take place around them, but the county has not given any clear response, they said.

Environmentalists have said that since the island is not recognized as a national park, the only way to legally protect its marine life is through the establishment of a conservation area.

Environmentalist Lin Pei-yu (林珮瑜), who frequently joins volunteers to clean up the island’s beaches, has witnessed the explosion of plastic waste on the island over the past few years.

It is not expensive to buy a plastic bag at a convenience store, but the true cost of the bag comes when it is discarded and the island must pay to have it shipped back to Taiwan proper, Lin said.

Local restaurant owner Chang Hsin-i (張欣怡) said she has refused to provide disposable takeout boxes, straws or plastic bags to customers, as she wants the island to be completely plastic-free.

Customers occasionally forget to return the reusable takeout boxes she provides, Chang said, adding that she spends about 15 minutes every evening driving to hostels to collect the boxes.

“Everyone is still learning how to reduce their dependency on plastic,” she said, adding that she hopes disposable plastic would one day be completely eliminated.

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