Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Taiwan: Biodiversity vs Development

Taiwan, an island on the Pacific Rim, straddles the Tropic of Cancer. Taiwan is generally not regarded as one of the great birding destinations of the Oriental faunal region but it is indeed a birder’s paradise that is all too often overlooked.

Taiwan is better known as one of Asia’s little dragons. Taiwan’s economic miracle tends to be what people associate Taiwan with. People think of countless toys, gadgets and electronic wares all labeled, “Made in Taiwan.”

Taiwan’s economic growth came at a great cost to Taiwan’s fragile environment. Much of natural Taiwan disappeared in clouds of pollution and storms of development but there are still natural areas left and these areas desperately need protection.

Taiwan, which covers an area of 36,000 square kilometers, may be small (0.025 percent of the total land on earth) but it showcase’s the entire range of climates from tropical to subarctic. This gives rise to an amazingly high level of biodiversity that few places on earth can match.

Taiwan, rising from tropical beaches to the highest mountains in East Asia (3952m, with over 200 peaks higher than 3000m), is in many ways a living laboratory housing samples of almost all of Asia’s ecosystems.

“Small but incredibly diverse and beautiful” aptly describes Taiwan’s natural environment. Taiwan boasts over 46, 360 described species of flora and fauna. Ten percent of the world’s marine species are found in the waters around Taiwan. 4,200 species of vascular plants grow in Taiwan which includes an amazing 700 species of ferns.

Taiwan has a very high level of endemism:-25 percent of Taiwan’s 4,200 species of vascular plants, 30 percent of 70 mammal species, 12 percent of 150 freshwater fish species, 60 percent of the 20,000 insect species which includes almost 400 butterfly species, 31 percent of amphibians, and 22 percent of reptiles. Of Taiwan’s approximately 520 recorded bird species 17 are endemic with 67 endemic subspecies.

Taiwan also occupies a prominent position on the East Asian Flyway. The fall raptor migration through Taiwan’s southern tip is amongst the world’s twenty largest, with figures as high as 50,000 raptors from 26 diurnal raptor species being recorded in a single day at the climax of the fall migration period.

Taiwan has a total of 53 IBAs or Important Bird Areas. For its size, Taiwan has a very high number of IBAs. Only 11 or 21% fall within totally protected areas. 17 IBAs or 32% fall within partially protected areas. That leaves 25 or 47% of Taiwan’s IBAs without any protection. Huben is one of the IBAs without any protection and much of this IBA’s important habitat is threatened by the construction of the Hushan Dam Project.

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