SAVE International

Earth Island News

SAVE International

Happy birthday, SAVE

On August 26, Berkeley-based SAVE International celebrated its fifth anniversary on the UC Berkeley campus. The event provided an opportunity for SAVE to review progress to date and plan for the ongoing campaign to save the black-faced spoonbill from the ravages of an industrial complex in the Tsengwen Estuary in Taiwan, which, if built, could condemn the bird to extinction.

Since 1997, SAVE International, whose membership includes UC Berkeley faculty, students, and staff together with colleagues in other parts of the world, has been working on an education and conservation program aimed at stopping the Binnan industrial complex.

In 1998, SAVE released an independent review of the Binnan project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA). The report, critical of the project’s EIA, was presented in a press conference and public hearings in Taipei. Heightened public attention forced the authority to subject Binnan’s EIA to the strictest scrutiny since Taiwan implemented its environmental impact assessment act in 1994.

While the Binnan project has not been halted, the group responsible is now faced with assessing the environmental impacts of a proposed international airport planned just north of the Tsengwen Estuary where the spoonbills roost. Spoonbills are not the only birds that would be affected by air and noise pollution from airplanes. Taiwan is home to over 500 species of birds, as well as sensitive trees and plants that provide habitat for both birds and other animals.

On the positive side, Magistrate Su Huan-chi, a long time supporter of efforts to protect the spoonbill, recently announced a large plot of land has been set aside as a conservation area for the bird. Under the new plan, motorized vehicles would be barred from entering the 1600-acre protected area near the mouth of Tsengwen Estuary. Hunting and fishing would also be prohibited.

Millennium bird

The Tsengwen Estuary is home to more than 60 percent of the total worldwide population of approximately 800 spoonbills. Known for its grace and beauty, the black-faced spoonbill is a popular tourist attraction in Taiwan. A photo of the bird graces the Taiwan passport, and it was hailed as Taiwan’s “Millennium Bird” in 2000.

As this “bird without borders” migrates from its wintering grounds in Taiwan to Korea, where it breeds, it is randomly protected under the United Nation’s Ramsar Convention in those countries that are UN members. Under the convention, a country can apply to have wetlands designated as having international importance if an endangered species is present and threatened. As Taiwan is not a member of the UN, it offers the bird no such protection, even though it hosts the world’s largest single assemblage of birds during the winter months.

Sites in Japan, Hong Kong, and Mainland China have been designated wetlands of international importance even though they support only one percent of the population.

In September 2002, SAVE members Randy Hester and Barbara Butler traveled to Taiwan to speak at an ecotourism workshop sponsored by Magistrate Su. The goals of the workshop were to present international ecotourism case studies that provide guidance on balancing protection of the resource and tourism development, and to work with local officials and community members to determine how ecotourism planning concepts could be applied to national scenic area and ecotourism planning in coastal Taiwan.

- Sheila Dickie
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