The Alangyi coastline. Photo by: Pierre Fidenci.
Voters in the January 14 Taiwanese presidential election will decide the fate of the island’s last pristine wilderness known as the Alangyi Trail. Amongst the three candidates, only one (Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party) may support the conservation of Alangyi Trail and its coastline. One of the top domestic stories of 2011 were the efforts by the Pingtung County government, indigenous tribes, and NGOs to preserve the Alangyi Trail, according to the Taiwan Environmental Information Center. Alangyi is now a major issue reflecting steadily growing environmental concern amongst the Taiwanese, but its fate is sadly uncertain.
Located on the southwest side of Taiwan, the trail meanders from Hengchun Peninsula to Peinan along the Pacific Ocean. It was established in the 1870s during the Qing dynasty and is a popular destination for nature lovers as well as a great escape from Taiwan’s huge urban centers. For nearly a decade the Ministry of Transportation and Communication of Taiwan (MOTC) has been seeking to build a provincial highway that would run through the last untouched coastline of Taiwan, alongside the ancestral trail. Such a project would obviously alter the Alangyi Trail’s scenery and natural quietude forever, impacting already declining endemic biodiversity. The Alangyi area covers the most pristine coastline forest in Taiwan and includes a remarkable geological environment that could be listed as a national geological monument.
Unidentified crab along the Alangyi coastlines. Photo by: Pierre Fidenci.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the highway project conducted by the Environmental Protection Administration Executive Yuan (EPAEY) claimed that the Alangyi Trail’s natural ecosystem would remain preserved. However, the assessment gravely neglected many of the road’s impacts, for example the highway construction will sever the important biological corridor between Kenting National Park and the remaining pristine coastline, especially for 17 species of large mammals that need space and open connectivity. The tidal zone of Alangyi is also a crucial feeding ground and habitat for many native animals, but species’ access would be greatly disturbed, reduced, or lost depending on an animal’s ability to reach the shoreline once the highway is built.
The road, which would be used by 4.9 million vehicles per year, would also cut through the heart of the pristine area. This would cause drastic scenic changes and reduce habitats for many endemic and endangered species. Some endemic animals and plants will face habitat loss. The coastline includes 687 vascular plants, at least 18 of them are endemic, and 337 animal species, 19 of them are protected species by Taiwanese laws. The Alangyi area is home to 13 amphibian species, 31 reptiles, and 28 mammals. Furthermore, the area is a hotspot of crab diversity (42 species), of which, five are endemic and two endangered: the Lintou crab (Scandarma lintou) and the coconut crab (Birgus latro). Crabs can be observed in every habitat from ground level to crawling on trees including forests, shorelines, and streams.
The constriction project would also impact the geologic wonders of Alangyi Trail, which is embraced by cliffs, sand dunes, and dynamic beaches. The highway work would include removing natural peddles from the shoreline and replacing them with concrete wave breakers and dikes in order to solidify the road’s base.
The project would also impact Taiwan’s distinctive cultural heritage. Aboriginal peoples used the trail to travel and hunt for centuries. During 1870s, the Qing dynasty used it as a military walking passage. Nowadays, it is enjoyed by hikers and nature lovers. Throughout hundreds of years, the Alangyi Trail has been an inspiration for cultural and tribal stories. Many of the magical and memorable tales told by the Pinpung Makatto, Paiwan, Amis, and Peinan Tribes originate from the Alangyi Trail. For example, the Chinese moccasin (Deinagkistrodon acutus), representing peace and independence, is worshipped by the Paiwan tribe. The Seremban plant (Crossostephium chinense) found at Alangyi is admired for its aromatic, silver-colored, and furry foliage. It was used for decoration during Pinpung Makatto’s liturgy. Both species are facing decline and are listed among Taiwanese’ endangered endemic plant and animal species.
After MOTC came under criticism for insisting on completing Route No. 26, it proposed an alternative highway plan that would redirect the road 200 meters away from its original route and would result in excavating 1.95 kilometers through rocky mountains for two tunnels. The width of lanes would be shortened from 12 meters to 9 meters, but the major negative impacts would remain. Furthermore, the economic benefits of protecting the area are very likely better than those associated with building a 19 billion NT dollars ($630,600 dollars) highway.
The Taiwanese people, living in an overcrowded and overdeveloped island, should recognize their priceless natural, spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore the importance of protecting their last untouched coastline. The construction of the highway, which would reduce travel time by only 30-40 min, is not worth the loss of the incredible ecological and cultural treasures of the Alangyi Trail, and certainly represents a big step backwards for sustainable tourism and development. It is our great hope that the project will be stopped and Alangyi declared as a protected area.
The Alangyi coast lined with endemic palm trees. Photo by: Pierre Fidenci.
The Wilderness Society of Taiwan and Endangered Species International visiting Alangyi Trail to show their opposition to the proposed highway project. Photo by: Pierre Fidenci.
(12/03/2007) In 1999 a 7.3 earthquake struck Nantou County at the center of quake-prone Taiwan. The earthquake caused considerable damage: over 2,000 people died and just under 45,000 houses were destroyed. It was Taiwan’s strongest quake in a hundred years. The quake also devastated a subpopulation of riparian frogs, Rana swinhoana, which had been under scientific study for three years prior. This devastation allowed scientists the opportunity to study the population changes in a species affected suddenly and irretrievably by natural disaster.