Coral erodes off Taiwan as divers take it home

November 9, 2009

Taiwan tourists are destroying a piece of exactly what they travel to see on an outlying mid-Pacific islet known — at least at one time — for its abundant coral reefs.

A pair of Taiwan environmental groups that marshaled 56 people to check the coral supply near Orchid Island, which is southeast of Taiwan proper, for the first time since 2004 found that the sensitive but colourful marine species covered only 18 percent of the surrounding ocean floor, down from 65 percent, said the Taiwan Environmental Information Center .

The Taipei-based information centre and its research partner the Taiwan Association for Marine Environmental Education suspect that the aftermath of a long-lasting August typhoon may have caused parts of the reef to break apart.

But they’re more concerned about a long-term influx of overeager Taiwan tourists who visit the sparsely populated island for diving or snorkeling in its azure waters.  Humans are taking too much coral or other aquatic life out of the water, hurting the ecosystem, said information centre special projects manager Kung Lu.

“Tourists have been taking too much out of the ocean,” Kung said. “Some of them just don’t know.”

Green Island, a neighbouring islet off the same subtropical coast and arguably northeast Asia’s top diving spot, is fighting an epidemic of diseased coral  as tourist traffic surges to nearly 400,000 visits per year . Orchid had gotten off easier because it’s farther from Taiwan’s main island, with fewer flights and hotels.

Coral reefs, delicate undersea structures resembling rocky gardens made by tiny animals called coral polyps, are nurseries as well as shelters for fish and other sea life. It will take 50 to 100 years before Orchid Island’s coral grows back to even 40 percent of the offshore ocean floor, the information centre estimates.

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They don’t know any better – it’s the job of the dive companies to educate these novice divers. Sure, the coral looks colorful underwater, but give it ten minutes at the surface and it bleaches white and starts to smell something awful. Most of the coral these people are taking will just be left on the beach to rot in the sun.


Posted by NE Diver | Report as abusive