A Response to Who Killed the Sousa Dolphins: "We Must Wait No Longer to Protect the Sousa"(是誰正在謀殺媽祖婆的粉紅護法？)
Taiwan Ocean Education Association
Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Advisory Working Group
Chungshan University Professor Li Jhengdi's article that you ran in your China Times forum on 3 April 2009 (? confirm) calls on the government to squarely face the issue of conservation measures for a population of fewer than 100 Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins along Taiwan's west coast. I wholeheartedly endorse Professor Li's views that active measures must be adopted. However, the article mentions a number of points that require further clarification if we are to determine who exactly is responsible for the extermination of "Matsu's Pink Angels."
Professor Li's article proposes that "a special interdisciplinary task force be set up to obtain research funding and to consolidate government, scientific and ngo resources to undertake work to protect the Sousa." Apparently Professor Li is not aware that there is already a legal framework in place, peer-reviewed scientific journal articles on the animals abound, and ngos have already been actively working in nearly every village on Taiwan's west coast to promote education about the Sousa. The conditions for protecting the Sousa are all in place, the only question is whether the government will act.
Independent scientists retained by the Matsu Fish Conservation Union have discovered that there are fewer than 100 of the ETS Pacific Humpback Dolphins remaining, dispersed between the Miaoli-Hsinchu county line through Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin and Chiayi. Through photo-identification techniques the coloring of this population of dolphins has been shown to differ from that of the populations in Hong Kong and China thus constituting a distinct population. This information was published in 2007 and 2008 in the journal Mammalia and was also the subject of discussion and verification during two international seminars and workshops held in 2004 and 2007. All of this information can easily be found through a google search and has not reasonably challenged or questioned by any scientific authority. These studies are the basis for the International Union of Conservation of Nature designation of the ETS Sousa as Critically Endangered and in need of urgent conservation measures. In keeping with the international conservation community, Taiwan’s Forestry Bureau, Council of Agriculture has classified the animals in category 1 of endangered species pursuant to the Wildlife Protection Act.
With the legal framework and scientific proof in place the most direct way to protect these animals is through the designation of their habitat as “important habitat” under the Wildlife Protection Act. It is as simple as the measures taken to protect the Taiwan Salmon’s habitat by declaring the Ciwanjia River important habitat under the same law. While the local Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union is engaging local groups in the west coast counties in joint education efforts, and their hard work at raising funds for scientific research, education, petitioning the government, and even participating in an eight-day parade event with the Tachia Matsu Temple, are all laudable and demonstrate foresight and determination, however, although far ahead of the government, their efforts will hardly succeed without more.
Concerned by the lack of cetacean expertise in Taiwan, and while the MFCU has been going ahead with their initiatives, a volunteer group of international cetacean and other scientific specialists have formed the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group to provide scientific data, research and consultation services to help protect the animals from extinction.
That all of these activities have been going on at a feverish pace for the past several years, leads one to wonder whether there really is a need for forming an "interdisciplinary task force" as proposed by Professor Li.
In addition, this failure of the government to take an active role in the protection of the ETS Sousa may very likely be the last straw for these animals. In fact the failure likely stems from the government's development plans for Taiwan's west coast. According to the two International workshop reports of 2004 and 2007 the five major threats to the dolphins are disappearance of habitat, reduction of fresh water flow impacting on their food supply, municipal, agricultural and industrial pollution, noise, and gill nets. The iron clad evidence given by the scientists on these factors are what the government must confront if it is serious about saving the animals.
But the government's response is disappointing. The Executive Yuan has been actively interfering on the side of the private developer in the environmental impact assessment of the highly-polluting, high-carbon emissions petrochemical plant development in the Dacheng wetlands of Changhua County: the cabinet announced that the assessment process must be speeded up for the benefit of industrialists and to save the economy. At the same time Taipower and Formosa Plastics are quietly proceeding with their mega projects for a coal fired power plant and petrochemical plant expansion respectively, right in the heart of ETS Sousa habitat. Even more ironic was listening to a scholar who on the one hand takes government money for ETS Sousa research, while on the other takes funding from Taipower and Formosa Plastics for ETS Sousa research. Those with a little background on the issue were dumbfounded as this "expert" explained to scholars, officials and ngo representatives during an interagency meeting on ETS Sousa conservation measures, how "we need more funding to do more research".
This is typical of the kinds of experts that the government is relying upon: playing both sides for research funding, behaving as though they have no understanding about recusal or conflicts of interest, and all but ignoring international scientific research, while continuing to make contradictory and confusing statements. They are being used by the government officials to delay any meaningful action, but while these academics banter about the need for more research, the time borrowed from Matsu, the sea goddess, is running out for the ETS Sousa.
The 23rd day of the third month in the lunar calendar is Matsu’s birthday. The waters of the Eastern Taiwan Strait become calm as a magnificent chorus of life is revealed: the corals of Kenting and Penghu begin to spawn, the schools of octopus return to the shallows around Penghu to mate, and the gentle, giant whale sharks lazily go about their feeding in the depths of the ocean. But as the Sousa, the leaping pink spirits of the Eastern Taiwan Strait, come out of their winter cloak of white-capped waves, will we Taiwanese begin to ask ourselves how much of the environment do we have to sacrifice before we understand that without healthy dolphins there will be no healthy seas, and without healthy seas there will be no healthy humans?
Translated by Robin Winkler, approved by Author 070409