A few days ago, a parachutist took an aerial photo of a stretch of water off Guanyin Township, Taoyuan County in northern Taiwan that showed a "black sea" area.
The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and local environmental bureau staff members tried to collect samples at the site Monday and checked a nearby textile factory. The officials failed to identify the source of the waste water that has been polluting the area.
The environmental authorities have been applauded by residents of the area for "taking the initiative" to investigate the reported case of pollution. However, a cultural association in Guanyin Towship said it had informed the the county's environmental bureau several times about the coastal pollution, but the bureau never took any responsive action.
"The government is simply numb," complained Pan Chung-cheng, president of the Dakuxi Cultural Association. He said he hopes that now the central government is paying attention to the matter, the relevant authorities will put forth a real solution to the problem.
Below are excerpts of reports by the United Daily News, a major Taiwanese newspaper, on the "black sea" incident:
A Taoyuan County parachutist took a photo of the “black sea” off Guanyin Township and posted the picture May 12 on his Facebook page, with a caption that read "Sad Coast."
After seeing the Facebook post, the EPA began scrambling the next day to investigate the matter.
Pan Cheng-chung, a local cultural association leader, said it was no secret that many factories inside the Guanyin Industrial Park have "hidden pipes" that transport waste water to the sea, where the precious algae reefs have been mostly destroyed.
Pan said when he saw the photo on May 13, he followed a map and walked inland from the coast for less than 200 meters where he found a dye factory that he believed was releasing waste water into the sea.
Taoyuan County Magistrate Wu Chih-yang said officials of his environmental bureau have briefed him on several suspected cases of industrial pollution, including the "black sea" phenomenon, and he has ordered the bureau to "go after the suspects with full force."
In response to criticisms that the bureau was not doing anything about the reported pollution within its jurisdiction, Director Chen Shih-wei said the bureau has provided a lot of information to the EPA, which has worked with his staff to probe the matter and crack down on pollution.
Chen said his staff went to the site May 13 to collect samples, but could not find any evidence of who was responsible. On May 14, environmental officials again went on an investigative mission and found that a dye factory may have been releasing waste water into the sea, he said.
But the factory was probably alerted by the media reports about the "black sea" incident and may have refrained from releasing any waste water that day, Chen added.
Nonetheless, Chen said, he and his staff "highly suspect" that the factory was the culprit and charged it with violating the pollution prevention act, which could lead to a maximum fine of NT$600,000 (US$20,341).
The algae reefs along coastal Taoyuan took more than 2,000 years to form. They once extended 27 km along the county's coast but have largely been destroyed by industrial pollution, leaving just about 4.5 km intact now, according to Pan.
In response to Pan's comments, Chen said the algae reefs were all south of a levee, while the "black sea" area was north of the levee.
"Industrial waste water flows northward," therefore, the polluted water would not have destroyed the reefs south of the levee, he said.
Algae reefs are as highly valued as coral reefs, which are animal reefs and grow faster than algae reefs. Algae reefs are plant reefs that live on calcium from sea water. "The algae reef grows only 0.1 cm a year," Pan said.
Algae reefs constitute an ecology in which different species of fish and birds form a food chain. If a stretch of reef is destroyed, the fishing grounds that rely on it would be ruined too.
Pan said that in Taoyuan County, there were once algae reefs stretching from Chuwei to Yungan fishing ports. But since the establishment of the Dayuan and Guanyin industrial zones, factory waste from inside the zones has killed almost all of the algae reefs, leaving less than 5 km north of the Dakuxi River and south of Chuwei fishing port, he said.
Pan said that during the Lunar New Year holidays, he found some small oysters in the area, which indicated a revival of some dead algae reefs.
However, "when work resumed after the long holidays, waste water was again being released into the sea, and the reefs died again," he said. (May 15, 2012)
(By S.C. Chang)