Overtourism, climate change and environmental pollution have caused extensive damage to coral reefs in Pingtung County over the past few months, a report said on Oct. 26.
The study was conducted by researchers at National Sun Yat-sen University, the National Museum of Natural Science and the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium. It was published on the Web site of the Taiwan Environmental Information Association.
The number of organisms and species observed near Siaoliouciou Island (小琉球) had declined by 80 percent in July and August, the study said.
Photo: Chen Yen-ting, Taipei Times
Coral reef coverage — the main indicator of ocean environmental health — was less than 20 percent in the study’s focus area, down from about 30 percent last year and about 50 percent in 2014, it said.
The researchers estimated that more than 350,000 sea urchins, sea cucumbers and other echinoderms died in the area during the period, saying that the large scale of deaths prevented a more precise assessment.
The decline in wildlife was likely caused by heavy rains in July lowering the water’s salinity, overtourism after COVID-19-related travel restrictions were eased late that month and heavy pollution due to runoff from the nation’s sewage system, the study said.
Fan Tung-yun (樊同雲), a researcher at the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium who coauthored the report, yesterday said that Siaoliouciou’s coral reefs are in worse shape than other reefs in the nation, citing separate reports showing 30 percent coverage off Kenting National Park.
The Pingtung County Government said it has commissioned new studies on the environmental impact of tourism on the island, as it is preparing to draw up new measures to protect maritime habitats.
So far, it has closed some areas as well as large swaths of the seashore at night during the reproductive season of coral, it said.
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