16 May 2016
The team sampled 12 sites (about 18 km of reef) spanning three locations in southern Taiwan.
The team sampled 12 sites (about 18 km of reef) spanning three locations in southern Taiwan.

By: Healthy Oceans Programs Manager, Dr Tyrone Ridgway

The XL Catlin Seaview Survey team has just wrapped up our expedition to Taiwan. 

In what represents a somewhat unconventional survey trip, this trip has felt a bit like being in a band, in that we have travelled the length and breadth of Taiwan in a bus stopping in three survey locations and loading and unloading our 370 kg of gear.  We have therefore been fortunate to experience the beauty of Taiwan both above and below the water, and had the opportunity to learn about the history, culture, and food of Taiwan – a true privilege. 

I think it's fair to say that the four of us have developed a great fondness for Taiwan, its reefs, its food, and its people and we would highly recommend it as a future travel destination.

The largest survey ever undertaken in Taiwan

By all accounts, we were extremely lucky that the weather and sea conditions were favourable during our two week adventure, which meant that we could complete the full list of sites planned.  As such, we sampled 12 sites (about 18 km of reef) spanning three locations in southern Taiwan – Green Island, Kenting National Park, and Dongji Island – making it the largest coral reef survey ever undertaken in Taiwan.

The reefs of Taiwan are spectacular and far exceeded our expectations.  All of the reefs surveyed had great reef structure, good hard coral diversity and relatively high coral cover.  Besides the wonderful reefscapes, perhaps the most striking feature of the reefs was the paucity of fish given the structural complexity of the reefs.  The demand for seafood in Taiwan is high, which has resulted in high levels of fishing pressure for a long time.  Fortunately, there are a number of passionate and motivated marine scientists (including our host Prof. Allen Chen) who are actively engaged in promoting the benefits of marine protected areas in Taiwan.

First signs of coral bleaching

The first sign that a coral reef is in trouble from underwater heatwaves is a sudden change in colour, from brown to brilliant white (bleached). It only takes a temperature increase of 1-2°C to cause corals to bleach.  The sea surface temperatures in southern Taiwan have been ~1.5°C above average for the four past weeks, which is a worrying sign for the reefs of Taiwan.  While the reefs of Green Island and Kenting showed no signs of coral bleaching during our surveys, early signs of bleaching were observed on a number of Montipora and Acropora colonies on the west coast of Dongji Island. 

The bleaching patterns manifesting themselves during the current third global bleaching event are very similar to what we saw during the first global bleaching event in 1998 – suggesting that it is likely that observations of coral bleaching from Taiwan will increase in the coming weeks.  

A great local interest

While in Taiwan we have presented three public talks on the XL Catlin Seaview Survey at the Kenting National Park, the National San Yet-Sen University in Kaohsiung, and at Academia Sinica in Taipei.  All the talks were well attended and generated a lot of interest at question time.  In addition to the talks, the team met with the Directors of the East Coast National Scenic Area Administration, Tourism Bureau, Ministry of Transportation and Communications; Green Island Marine Research Station; Kenting National Park; and Marine National Park Headquarters.

A final thank you

As the sun sets on this successful Taiwan survey trip, we would like to acknowledge the interest and funding support from the local partners - Academia Sinica; Green Island Marine Research Station; East Coast National Scenic Area Administration, Tourism Bureau, Ministry of Transportation and Communications; Kenting National Park; the Coastguard.

Finally, the team would like to express our deep gratitude to Prof. Allen Chen and his wonderful team that made this trip so successful and memorable.  Their passion and commitment to the coral reefs of Taiwan is truly inspiring, and it was a great privilege to travel with, work alongside, learn from, and sing karaoke with them.  The XL Catlin team arrived in Taiwan as strangers, but definitely leave with fond memories and life long friends.

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