Construction work is set to start on three offshore wind farms off Changhua County, with construction vessels already on standby. However, raising more offshore wind turbines would have an ecological impact on various species, notably the critically endangered colony of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins of the Sousa chinensis taiwanesis subspecies, known as Taiwanese white dolphins or “Matsu fish.”
The government has failed to produce a proactive and feasible recovery plan for the dolphins.
We call on the government and construction companies to promptly propose and implement such a plan.
At least, they can offer gillnet fishers operating along the west coast rewards for suspending fishing while the wind turbines are being built. This would allow fishery resources to recover as well as give the dolphins a chance to survive.
Moreover, many aspects of the impact of wind turbines construction on the dolphins cannot be assessed within the existing environmental impact assessment system.
First, it is impossible to assess the cumulative disturbance caused by multiple wind farm constructions over a long period.
Second, if noise levels below those causing permanent damage to the dolphins’ hearing is taken as the standard in environmental impact assessments, it is not enough to protect this critically endangered species living in a very narrow habitat.
Third, the environmental pressure that has caused the dolphins to become critically endangered persists, and any additional environmental pressure might further imperil their survival.
Fourth, if the dolphins move away and gather in other waters to avoid the wind farms, it would increase the risk of dolphins being accidentally caught in fishing nets.
Seen from a scientific point of view, it is clear that the construction of offshore wind turbines is to affect the dolphins to some degree.
The question, then, is how to help this endangered colony of dolphins to survive this period of construction.
The number of humpback dolphins off Taiwan’s west coast is an indicator of growth or depletion of fishery resources. Protecting the dolphins means protecting those resources.
Civic groups have suggested that the government and developers join hands to offer rewards to the coastal fishing industry along the west coast to transition to a sustainable model of fishing in which ecological conservation can generate added value for near-shore fisheries.
However, there has been no sign of fishery policy departments taking any such measures.
There are only 50 to 60 Taiwanese white dolphins left. If construction of renewable energy resources causes this endangered subspecies to go extinct, it would hamper the government’s green energy policies, damage the reputation of international green energy developers and degrade Taiwan’s biodiversity.
The environmental pressure that endangers the dolphins cannot be eliminated overnight, but considering the funds at developers’ hands, as well as the government’s general budget and the stimulus budget drawn up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, gillnet fishers should be offered rewards for suspending fishing activities.
The government should then require fishers not to place gillnets in near-shore waters while offshore wind turbines are being built. This might allow the Taiwanese white dolphins to survive and live to see the arrival of a medium-to-long-term recovery plan.
Chen Bing-heng is founding chairman of the Matsu Fish Conservation Union.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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