Philippine Daily Inquirer

Penghu, Taiwan’s endangered paradise

These idyllic coastal islands are threatened by pollution from neighborin­g countries

- By Krixia Subingsubi­ng @krixiasINQ

Taiwan’s best-kept secret is hidden in plain sight: islets of green dotting the crystal blue of Taiwan Strait, a community off the west coast of mainland Taipei.

Its white-sand coasts and majestic basaltic formations are touched mostly by sunlight and breaking waves, away from the destructiv­e hand of humans.

Penghu, a coastal paradise 260 km from Taipei’s urban hubbub and night markets, belongs to a not-so-discreet list of the “Most Beautiful Bays in the World (MBBW).”

It joins, among others, the Philippine­s’ Puerto Galera Bay in Oriental Mindoro province.

Its strength, Penghu County governor Kuang Fu-chen says, is its tight-knit community of locals who have taken it upon themselves to preserve the archipelag­o.

Penghu is home to at least 100,000 people caught in a delicate balancing act between two vital, yet opposing, forces: fishing and booming tourism.

At least 90 islands make up Penghu, an hourlong flight from Taipei to its capital city, Magong. Nineteen are inhabited, while the rest are untouched sanctuarie­s of marine life.

So rich is Penghu’s natural diversity that even its rocks carry historical weight, said Taiwan geopark associatio­n president Jiun Chuan-lin.

Its landscapes and rock formations, formed by waves, winds and workers’ hands, carry “the long history of Penghu residents’ activities and their heritage,” he said.

Ancient fishing trap

These include the Twin-Hearts Stone Weir on Qimeiyu Island, a well-preserved ancient fishing trap forming a flying heart near the coastline.

Penghu is also a storied archipelag­o that served as one of Formosa’s best defense stronghold­s, from the Ming Dynasty in the 1600s, to the Japanese occupation in the 19th century.

Remnants of its war-torn past still exist on Xiyu Island, where several forts, including the Yumengdao Lighthouse, dot the former military stronghold.

But as other natural wonders contend with the destructiv­e forces of tourism, Penghu’s biggest environmen­tal problem is the ocean itself, Ma Chin-tsu, Penghu’s environmen­tal protection bureau director general, says.

Penghu is caught between the cross tides of the China cold coast current to its west and the Kuroshio (Japan) current to its northeast.

Because it is completely water locked, Ma said, its otherwise immaculate coastlines are often contaminat­ed with sea drift.

Its picturesqu­e Jibei sand peninsula and Longmen beaches, for example, are often filled with plastic waste from neighborin­g countries.

Half of these are PET bottles identified as Chinese-made, while the other half comes from other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, the Philippine­s and Indonesia.

Penghu residents usually clear an average of almost four million tons of garbage a year from its coasts.

“It’s almost as if Penghu is a stopover for waste,” Ma lamented. “It has become a cemetery for garbage.”

As such, the county engages its residents in regular coastal cleanups. It’s also invested in longer-term solutions, like high-tech recycling and requiring businesses to reduce plastic packaging.

Students are even required by law to visit natural landscapes to learn more about the importance of environmen­tal education, Jiun says.

Setting foot in Penghu Islands feels like stepping into an anachronis­m. In Magong City, five-star hotels and malls stand across the marina where ships and yachts are berthed.

Politicall­y charged issue

But drive deeper away from the hub, and the cars and pedestrian­s dwindle to nil. The landscape goes from urban modernity to ornate red-and-gold temples, Japanese classical homes, and former military outposts, until the roads wind toward the blue ocean.

As climate change morphs into a politicall­y charged issue, Taiwan is intent on setting an example for responsibl­e environmen­talism in Penghu, even if it is being squeezed off the global stage by China, said to be the world’s top pollutant.

Penghu’s stake in the climate debate is exemplifie­d in its oldest villages, Nanliao and Beiliao.

Only 500 people live in Nanliao, one of Taipei’s oldest farming communitie­s. Its coral walls perfectly preserve its ancient rural architectu­re and illustrate how closely tied Penghu’s villages are to the ocean.

Beiliao is Penghu’s most traditiona­l fishing village. Its aging community, mostly fisherfolk, still practices longline fishing to preserve its seascapes.

It’s perhaps best known for its bearded croakers, often used in some of Penghu’s signature seafood dishes.

Its indelible ties to the ocean have made Penghu more committed to managing marine pollution and to eco-sustainabi­lity, said governor Kuang Fu-chen.

What makes the effort even more impressive is that Taipei is not even a member of the United Nations (UN).

“Our determinat­ion to engage with the world and strengthen Taiwan’s global contributi­ons has never faltered,” President Tsai Ing-wen told Penghu’s residents in a speech.

“Even though Taiwan is not a member of the UN, we continue to work hard and seek opportunit­ies to cooperate with the UN’s 17 Sustainabl­e Developmen­t Goals,” she added.

But Penghu’s efforts must be reciprocat­ed on the global level for these initiative­s to work, Ma Chin-tsu said.

This means making the government­s, whose debris regularly ends up on its coasts, manage their wastes.

“The ocean is Penghu’s lifeline, the mother of its people,” Ma said. “The government­s and people must work together to keep Penghu a beautiful place.”

 ??  ?? Beiliao Village in Penghu, a sunny, coastal community off the west coast of mainland Taipei, is more than its white sand beaches and pristine coasts. It’s also an exemplar of the best ecotourism and sustainabi­lity practices, which have earned it a spot on the “Most Beautiful Bays in the World” list.
Beiliao Village in Penghu, a sunny, coastal community off the west coast of mainland Taipei, is more than its white sand beaches and pristine coasts. It’s also an exemplar of the best ecotourism and sustainabi­lity practices, which have earned it a spot on the “Most Beautiful Bays in the World” list.
 ??  ?? Daguoye basaltic column
Daguoye basaltic column
 ??  ?? Nanliao Village is one of the oldest villages in Penghu county. Home to less than 500 people, its coral wall architectu­re perfectly preserves Taiwan’s rural life and best illustrate­s how closely Penghu’s villages are tied to the ocean.
Nanliao Village is one of the oldest villages in Penghu county. Home to less than 500 people, its coral wall architectu­re perfectly preserves Taiwan’s rural life and best illustrate­s how closely Penghu’s villages are tied to the ocean.
 ??  ?? A fisherman in Beiliao village prepares his net to fish. The village is home to Penghu’s traditiona­l fishing community.
A fisherman in Beiliao village prepares his net to fish. The village is home to Penghu’s traditiona­l fishing community.

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