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Birder biker focusing attention on Taiwan's wetlands

2017/11/11 18:54:34

Taipei, Nov. 11 (CNA) For many people, biking across Taiwan is an item on their bucket list, but for Lin Kun-hai (林昆海), who started that journey on Saturday, there is a public cause.

"I want to look at how the 83 wetlands across the country are being preserved under the national plan so I can contribute to the conservation of wetlands, where many birds call home," Lin told CNA before he set off.

Lin first started birdwatching when he was in college, and after 20 years, he realized that it required action to raise public awareness of the issue of wetland conservation.

Traveling across Taiwan on an ecologically friendly form of transportation is a good way to attract people's attention, said Lin, who plans to spend a month documenting the condition of some 60 wetlands on the country's coastal areas.

Starting from Niaosong Wetland in the southern city of Kaohsiung, he will ride north, stopping at wetlands designated as of international, regional, and national importance, of which there are two, 40 and 41, respectively.

In Taiwan, there are 47,627 hectares of wetlands, which include Zengwun Estuary Wetland and Sihcao Wetland in Tainan in southern Taiwan, the two major ones, according to data from the Construction and Planning Agency valid as of 2015.

The country's wetlands areas are protected and regulated under the Wetlands Conservation Act of 2015, which also states that the designation of wetlands of regional importance is subject to review by the central government.

That regulation has led to a tug of war between conservationists and land owners, mostly state-run businesses and universities, due to conflicts over environmental and economic interests.

The tensions have escalated since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) laid out her administration's goal of creating a nuclear-free homeland by 2025, which means wetlands may be used for setting up renewable energy plants, in particularly for solar and wind power.

Against that background, Lin said, he will be paying particular attention to the condition of the 41 wetlands designated as of regional importance.

On his cycling trip, he will be collecting ecological information and interviewing people in local communities to gain an understanding of the issues in those areas and the question of whether land development should go ahead, he said.

"In a field study like this, I think it's important that we include the human factor rather than focus only on biodiversity," he said.

Lin's project, organized jointly with the Chinese Wild Bird Federation and dubbed "Birdy for Wetlands," will carried out in three parts, starting with the coastal wetlands.

Later, he will visit wetlands in inland areas and the outlying islands, he said.

When the project is completed, the Chinese Wild Bird Federation will publish a report sometime around June next year, offering the government a view from the grassroots perspective, said the federation's Research Officer Jo Lee (李翊僑).

"This is an attempt to look at ongoing bird conservation efforts from a wetlands angle," she told CNA.

According to the federation's research conducted in 2004 and 2015, wetlands in Taiwan often overlap with important bird areas (IBA), which are identified, under international criteria, as being globally important for the conservation of bird populations.

In an effort to examine some of the concerns of birders, Lin will be visiting several "wetland hotspots" where the environment might be at risk due to development.

One of the sites is Yongan Wetland in Kaohsiung, designated as of regional importance, which he will visit on Sunday.

The wetlands, known to be the habitat of 168 species, are one of the IBAs but may be facing an overdevelopment crisis. Owned by state-run Taiwan Power Company (Taipower), part of the site is scheduled to be used for a new natural gas power station.

The new 3.9GW facility will replace the nearby Hsinta Power Plant, which is due to be decommissioned in 2025 to enhance the overall performance and competitiveness of the supply system and reduce CO2 emissions and pollution, according to the company.

"Hopefully my observation about the Yongan Wetland could help shed light on the issue so people can better handle the controversy," Lin said.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)
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