April 26, 2011

Reef Check Taiwan Continues to Grow


By Reef Check Taiwan’s Lulu Keng

2010 was the second year that the NGO TEIA (Taiwan Environmental Information Association) organized Reef Check (RC) in Taiwan, creating partnerships among community volunteers, government agencies, scuba diving centers, and other non-profits. Last year, over 32 transects from a total of 6 survey sites were completed, with 121 volunteer divers from different backgrounds joining together with RC in Taiwan.

Many people in Taiwan, an ocean nation, have very little understanding of our marine system; the invaluable resources of this beautiful coral paradise are not well appreciated. In fact, environmental conditions are optimal for coral growth in Taiwan; as a result, the island is surrounded by well-developed reefs. However, conservation measures are lacking and the reefs are consistently under stress from overdevelopment and overfishing. On the islands where tourism flourishes, such as Green Island and Liuqiu Island, untreated domestic sewage is directly released into coastal waters, resulting in the degradation of coral reefs. One of the consequences may be the outbreak of a species of black sponge at Green Island. Furthermore, coastal fishery management within reef areas is underdeveloped and lacks proper enforcement. Unregulated fishing activities are still a major problem in reef areas, evident from the large amount of ghost nets.

According to the 2010 survey data, living coral coverage was less than 25% on some transects from 2 of the survey sites (North-east coast & Liuqiu Island); coral coverage was even less than 10% on one transect from Liuqiu Island. On the other hand, living coral coverage was above 50% at some of the survey sites at Green Island and Lanyu Island.

Unfortunately, the data from the species survey showed the reef was degrading. Large fishes were not seen at any of our sites. The fish species recorded were unvaried among sites- butterflyfish, snapper, and parrotfish, all less than 8 individuals/100m. In the invertebrate survey, the average abundance of species varied with location, but most of the abundances were very low. The number of crown-of-thorns and lobster were zero at every site.

Volunteers were delighted to contribute to the protection of the reefs, and smiled brightly in spite of the bad weather. Photo by Jude Chang.

Compared to the general public, the glory of coral reefs is well-known to scuba divers, but the role the reefs play in all of our lives is not fully perceived, thus not all recreational divers care about the health of coral reefs to begin with. However, scuba divers are becoming more aware of the urgency to protect the reefs. Hence the action of Reef Check was well-received. Chen, a volunteer diver who participated in both 2009 and 2010 Reef Checks in Taiwan, said, “the coral reefs in Taiwan are comparable to most diving hot spots in the world, and we hope Taiwan can become the paradise for divers worldwide in the future.”

In conjunction with the underwater surveys, Reef Check Taiwan also organized on-land activities on Penghu Islands and Taitung coast, such as beach cleanups and cultural workcamps, namely the Reef Check Working Holiday. We hope to expand the vision of the divers to care not only for the underwater coral ecosystem, but also the problems occurring along our coastlines. Through Reef Check Working Holidays, volunteers have the opportunity to interact with people from the local communities, gain insights to the difficulties that local people face, and the cause and effect of the marine crisis.

This year TEIA will continue to organize Reef Check in Taiwan. The number of survey sites will increase to 7; and more local divers and communities are being recruited as collaborators to build the foundation for sustaining the action. The accomplishments of Reef Check Taiwan are immense, considering scuba diving is not very popular in Taiwan, our people are unaware of the value of our ocean, and our government neglects the importance of marine policy. Nevertheless, we still have the passion and faith to persist with Reef Check in the years to come, in the hopes of seeing our coral reefs being treasured someday.

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Chen (middle), a senior volunteer.
Photo by Xuan Zhou Chen
A volunteer during a survey.
Photo by TEIA.
Volunteers worked together to draw a poster showing the data collected from Shanyuan. Photo by TEIA. A volunteer signs the International Declaration of Reef Rights.
Photo by TEIA.