A conservationist in Kinmen County is determined to save species of fish endemic to the islands, no matter the size.
Chen Kuang-yao (陳光耀), director of the Kinmen Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Association, has dedicated himself to saving the many unique species that live in and around the outlying islands.
He has recently turned his sights to Metzia mesembrinum, a type of minnow, which Chen said is “nothing special,” but faces imminent extinction.
The freshwater fish cloaked in subdued browns and grays grows as long as 4.8cm, but only in Taiwan.
It disappeared from Taiwan proper more than a century ago, leaving Kinmen as the only place where it can be found in the wild.
Chen said that there are only about 10,000 left, primarily in the Guangcian (光前溪) and Doumen (斗門溪) creeks.
Yet in the short time between Chen’s last two surveys, it appears as though they have already disappeared from Doumen Creek, mainly due to drought conditions.
Kinmen has been experiencing its worst drought in 50 years, posing a threat to many aquatic species, Chen said on Tuesday last week.
Farmers have been rerouting what little water there is to irrigate their crops, leaving none for the fish, he said.
“Fish are not like other animals; they cannot move to another habitat,” he said. “If Metzia mesembrinum disappear from Kinmen, they will have disappeared from the Earth.”
Some rehabilitation efforts have preserved a small number of them, but the situation remains dire, he added.
This led Chen to reach deep into his own pockets to start what he calls a “fish reclamation workshop” committed to protecting the last of the world’s Metzia mesembrinum.
The workshop has three breeding tanks which hold about 300 of the fish as a “reserve fund.”
If they go extinct, these 300 fish could be released back into the wild to repopulate the island, Chen said.
He has also spared no expense on the NT$5 million (US$180,375) facility, all the way down to the high-protein eel food he purchases as feed.
All told, the workshop costs him about NT$50,000 per month, but Chen said that it is worthwhile.
“They might not look special, but each species has value,” he said. “If we preserve them, they will be there for the next generation.”
This is why he insists on conservation and rehabilitation, Chen said, because “an animal saved is an animal gained.”
Apart from Metzia mesembrinum, Chen also works tirelessly to preserve other rapidly disappearing fish species native to Kinmen.
Long after disappearing from the county’s main island, Chen rediscovered the climbing perch, or Anabas testudineus, in neighboring Lieyu Township (烈嶼).
He also managed to catch a rosy bitterling, which had been thought to be extinct from Kinmen for more than 20 years, both of which are also being rehabilitated at Chen’s workshop.
Chen said he is still chasing his own personal white whale.
The Snyder’s barb, or Barbodes snyderi, has not been seen in the wild for nearly two decades.
Chen said he has searched all over the county, including for three straight days in Cingtian Reservoir (擎天水庫), but the fish still eludes him.
Even after 10 years, he said he would keep looking.
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