Drop in dolphins sparks calls for new department

UNSUSTAINABLE::The rate of decline of endangered Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins is at worrying levels, and there is no department of marine conservation

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Jan 09, 2013 - Page 3

In light of the steady decline in the endangered Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins observed off Taiwan’s west coast in recent years, environmental activists, academics and lawmakers yesterday called on the government to establish a department specializing in marine conservation.

National Taiwan University professor Chou Lien-siang (周蓮香), who has been researching whales and dolphins along Taiwan for many years, said that up to 74 Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins had previously been recorded along the west coast, but the number dropped to 66 in 2008 and to only 62 last year.

“Sometimes, they are caught in fishing nets or accidentally hurt, but if the population drops at a rate of about one every decade, it can still be sustained,” she said.

However, the population has been dropping at the rate of about one a year since 2008, which is really a matter of concern, she said.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Wen-yen (邱文彥) said the species has been listed as endangered by international conservation organizations, so Taiwan should better protect the species to prevent sanctions from the international community, but the government still lacks a department of marine research and conservation.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said a planned marine commission in the upcoming government restructuring scheme would govern only the Coast Guard Administration, and cross-ministerial communication and cooperation projects had been mostly ineffective, so it would be better to have a specialized department in charge of integrating and executing marine policies.

Kuan Li-hao (管立豪), director of the Forestry Bureau’s Conservation Division, said there had been difficulties negotiating a designated nature reserve with fishermen because many are concerned that the policy would restrict their fishing rights, so the bureau will have to come up with better ways to communicate with them.

An official from the Fisheries Agency said the agency would continue to work with the forestry bureau in communicating with fishermen, and also suggested that nature reserves could be initially designated in certain small areas and gradually expanded.

According to Chang Fu-lin (張富林), senior executive officer of the planning department at the Executive Yuan’s Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, the planned marine commission will have six departments, with only about 60 percent of the personnel from the Coast Guard Administration, so it will include marine conservation.

As of yesterday morning, 31 civic groups and 21 academics had signed a statement in support of the environmental groups’ call.