Protecting the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area

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The Situation

Although the master plan for Taiwan’s Southwest Coast National Scenic Area (SWCNSA) gives the highest priority to conserving habitat for Black-faced Spoonbills and protecting the region’s cultural tourism and eco-tourism, the scenic area is under attack from a bizarre bunch of proposals, including an airstrip catering to wealthy “aero-tourists”.

In early 2015, SAVE’s allies in Taiwan alerted us to several unusual developments: photographs of buildings near the SWCNSA headquarters in Beimen painted in tropical Caribbean colors, news articles about then-Director Cheng’s promise to develop a “love theme park”, and rumors of a small-craft airstrip near one of the spoonbills’ core roosting areas at the Chiku Wetland and just north of the headquarters of the Taiwan Black-faced Spoonbill Conservation Association (BFSA) (link to BFSA website), in the village of Ding Shan. Mr. Cheng, the Director of the SWCNSA at that time, seemed to be one instigating some of these projects; in the case of the airstrip, he was not the instigator but he wrote letters to other officials saying that he supported it.

SAVE_PlanOfSWCNSAAirstrip_2015-04

Actions by SAVE and Others

Speaking in agreement with local environmental and wetland-focused groups, including the BFSA, SAVE has sent letters urging various senior government officials to stop these inappropriate projects, especially the airstrip, which was being built without any formal environmental review.

You can read SAVE’s letters here: May 2015 letter, October 2015 letter.

(Long-time supporters of SAVE might remember our 2003 study (linked here), which pointed out severe problems with another proposed airport, right where the new airstrip is being built.)

April 2015: SAVE visits the airstrip
Members of SAVE’s Advisory Board visited the area in April 2015 to see things for themselves. The leaders of the BFSA gave SAVE a tour of the half-finished but still unsanctioned airstrip near the group’s headquarters in Ding Shan village. Scientists from the adjoining Taijiang National Park met with the SAVE delegation to discuss the threat to the spoonbills. The SAVE delegation also met with some national legislators, who quickly joined the fight against the airstrip and the other proposals.

SAVE_VisitingTheSWCNSAAirstrip_2015-04

Under considerable pressure, Director Cheng of the SWCNSA eventually wrote a letter saying that the Scenic Area did not support the airstrip and had shifted his other plans away from spoonbill habitat, but other government officials were noncommittal. The Civil Aeronautics Administration debated whether to open the flight zone for the airstrip. The Council of Agriculture, in charge of protections for endangered species, also had a chance to influence the fate of the airstrip, but did not said clearly what it will advise. And the Construction and Planning Agency (which oversees the National Wetlands Act, governing the nearby Chiku Wetland) held a meeting on September 3 but did not invite members of the BFSA; attendees of that meeting suggested opening the flight zone with restrictions, such as closing it at certain times of the year and restricting the height of flights. SAVE believes, however, that this is a bad compromise. Airplane activities and wildlife habitat are simply incompatible here. Chiku Wetland is home to different migratory birds throughout the year, not just in one season; although closing the airstrip during the winter roosting period of the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill would prevent some conflicts, some birds are present in summer, including juvenile spoonbills who often linger before migrating. Any restrictions here would be hard to enforce, because someone must be present to monitor the airstrip, turn away any pilots who do not know that the airstrip is officially closed, and ensure that any flights follow the height restrictions. We also predict that once the airstrip is open, it would not take long before the airstrip would be used full-time.

January 2016: High-Heeled Shoes Church
Local media announced the opening of the “High-Heeled Shoes Church” in Chiayi. This kitschy glass structure has no connection to local culture, but was built to attract tourists through simple novelty.

August 2016: Director Cheng retires
Great news! SAVE has learned that Director Cheng has retired. We hope his retirement will put an end to his campaign of attracting tourists at any cost by ignoring the master plan and not managing the scenic area responsibly. (Ironically, according to our Taiwan contacts, Cheng told a newspaper reporter that he intended to teach courses on tourism at a university.)

Next steps

The National Scenic Area will get a new director soon, and SAVE looks forward to working with him/her. We will encourage all officials to live up to Taiwan’s good reputation for protecting wildlife and wetlands, and reminding them of the successful economic results from appropriate forms of ecological and cultural tourism at the SWCNSA.

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