Coral reefs off Pingtung County’s Siaoliouciou Island (小琉球) are in worse shape than any other reefs in the nation, while Chinese dredging and fishing off Penghu County remains a matter of national security, the Taiwan Citizen Participation Association said on Thursday.
Experts conveyed their concerns at a forum organized by the association on environmental health in the nation’s outlying islands.
Siaoliouciou, Taiwan’s only island formed from coral detritus, once had the healthiest reefs in the nation, said Fan Tung-yun (樊同雲), a researcher at the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium.
Photo courtesy of the Ocean Conservation Administration via CNA
However, the situation has quickly deteriorated due to overfishing, pollution, human activity, algal growth, typhoons, heat waves and other threats, he said.
“The ocean floor around Siaoliouciou is barren,” Fan said. “Over these past two years, reefs have declined while algae has increased. Add to that overfishing, and all that remains are sea turtles.”
Snorkeling and other tourist activities in intertidal zones also severely affect coral health, Fan said, calling for stricter oversight and better tourism practices.
“It would be pointless if we try to restore the coral while it is being trampled,” he said.
The Dapeng Bay Scenic Area Administration vowed to improve management of recreational activities on and around the island.
Other experts highlighted deteriorating marine conditions off Penghu, which sees frequent incursions by Chinese fishing and dredging boats, as well as garbage brought by ocean currents.
Penghu’s shoreline measures only one-third of that of Taiwan proper, but it has two-thirds of the trash, Foundation of Pescadores Citizens executive director Wang Hsiao-chan (王曉嬋) said.
Fishing waste is especially abundant, she said, adding that material variety makes the garbage difficult to clear.
Illegal encroachment by Chinese vessels is also severely affecting the area, she said.
Most incursions are by Chinese fishing trawlers, which drag nets along the ocean floor, upending fish and coral, Wang said.
The incursions gravely harm the environment and the local fishing industry, she added.
It is visible from the coast of Penghu that the sea around the archipelago is crawling with Chinese fishing boats, Wang said, citing a fisher from Cimei Township (七美).
“The invasion has already reached our doorstep,” Wang said. “It is serious enough to be a national security concern.”
The government should impose heavier fines on Chinese vessels that illegally cross into Taiwanese waters, she said, adding that at least 20 percent of the fines should be used for hazard pay and bonuses of coast guard personnel, as well as to improve armaments of their ships.
Coast guard ships should be dispatched to guard Penghu before the onset of the northeast monsoon, and a maritime surveillance system should be deployed to register the locations, names and other data of the Chinese vessels, she said, adding that photographs of them should also be added to the database.
Environmental problems on the nation’s outlying islands are vastly different from those on Taiwan proper, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Hung Sun-han (洪申翰) said.
Illegal dredging and marine waste is a conservation crisis “akin to sucking the ocean’s lifeblood,” said Hung, who has an environmental advocacy background.
Harsher penalties are needed, he said, vowing to stay in contact with environmental groups on the issue.
Their concerns would be included in a catalogue of problems that would be sent to the president and Executive Yuan for consideration, association director-general Ho Tsung-hsun (何宗勳) said, adding that the groups would meet with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on April 22, which is Earth Day.
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