FEATURE: Underwater photographer urges ocean conservation

By Tsai Tsung-hsien and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Tue, Jan 07, 2014 - Page 5

Tsai Yung-chun (蔡永春), one of the nation’s most distinguished underwater photographers, reacted with surprise and joy when he found out he was the first Taiwanese to win first place in a major Asian underwater photography contest.

Late last year, Tsai won the Asian Underwater Federation’s International Underwater photography competition, which attracted entries from Taiwan, Japan, China, the Philippines, South Korea, Russia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia, and was held in Manado, the capital of Indonesia’s North Sulawasi Province.

As opposed to regular underwater photography competitions, the Asian competition stipulates that its competitors shoot their photographs at the event, relying entirely on their skill and leaving no space for adjustments or editing.

Tsai, 58, has been involved in photography for more than three decades.

Tsai said he used to be a fisherman and harpooner and became interested in photography due to a “lucky accident” when he submitted a photo of tropical fish near Kenting (墾丁) to the Kenting National Park’s photography exposition.

Tsai said he was surprised and honored the judges in Indonesia found his photographs worthy of a gold medal as it had been the first time the Taiwanese team had visited the area.

When asked what his secret was, Tsai said he placed more emphasis on quality than on quantity.

Over the two days of the competition, he shot 200 photos, spending at least 30 minutes taking several shots of the scenery surrounding his intended subject, Tsai said, adding that he needed extra time because he was unfamiliar with the local water and fish ecology.

Pointing to the photos of the damselfish which won him the gold medal, Tsai said he had spent more than 20 minutes trying as many different angles to make the 20 shots of the fish.

Despite his joy of having made a name for Taiwan and himself in the underwater photography world, Tsai was also aware of the nation’s shortcomings when it came to preservation of the ocean.

As one of the board members of the Coral Reef Society, Tsai has seen the good and bad times of the Kenting region and its surrounding waters.

He said that the greatest harm to the coral reef ecology of the Kenting region was not the Amorgos incident nor the various ravages brought on by typhoons, but rather the nation’s eating habits which result in overfishing of certan species of fish.

The Amorgos, a Greece-registered ship, was accused of causing an oil spill off the coast of Kenting National Park in 2001.

The incident was settled out of court between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Assuranceforeningen Gard, the Norwegian insurer of the bulk carrier for the sum of NT$34 million (US$1.05 million at current exchange rates).

Tsai’s recent visit to Sipadan Island in Malaysia surprised him because the number of fish in the waters was similar to when he visited the area two decades ago.

On the other hand, Kenting, whose waters held a wide variety of fish that rivaled famous international underwater tourist attractions two decades ago, had suffered a great decrease in the variety of fish over the past decade, Tsai said, adding that the number of fish had dwindled to just 20 percent of that 20 years ago.

Residents near diving resorts overseas are very cooperative with their government’ conservation policies because they know that their livelihood depends on the ocean, Tsai said, adding that in comparison, Taiwanese still had a very limited concept of ocean ecology conservation.

“I wish the government would have the guts to put its foot down and implement a series of policies that may see the oceanic ecology around Taiwan become the newest tourist attraction of the nation,” he said.