Following last month’s oil spill at CPC Corp, Taiwan’s Dalin refinery in Kaohsiung, thousands of people from various organizations have helped with the emergency response as the oil slick moved with the currents to threaten two protected marine areas.
A few days ago, the Ocean Conservation Administration fined CPC NT$1.5 million (US$53,472) for the spill, the highest amount allowed by the Marine Pollution Control Act (海洋污染防治法). The CPC has had two similar incidents this year; a NT$1.5 million fine does not reflect the major damage done to the ecosystem.
Oil spills require a large amount of resources and labor to remedy, and they also wreak havoc on the marine ecology. The latest spill affects not only sea turtles and coral reefs in Pingtung County’s Siaoliouciou (小琉球), it also threatens the precious but little-known “blue carbon” ecosystem, an area of seagrass beds of roughly 5.3 hectares in Siaoliouciou, Checheng Township (車城) and Nanwan (南灣) in Pingtung County’s Kenting National Park, as well as about 66 hectares of mangrove forest in Kaohsiung’s Linyuan District (林園) and Dapeng Bay (大鵬灣) in Donggang Township (東港).
Blue carbon areas, like coral, have a variety of ecological functions. They are not only natural wave-absorbing areas and nurseries for fish, but can also absorb up to six times more carbon than land forests. This makes them valuable carbon reduction partners in many regions at a time when reducing carbon is paramount.
Statistics show that mangrove forests have an average annual economic value of NT$1.48 billion per hectare due to their rich ecological functions. Seagrass, in addition to its outstanding ability to absorb carbon, is also a staple food for green turtles, and it has an average annual economic value of about NT$1.4 million per hectare.
The total annual value of the blue carbon ecosystem threatened by the recent oil spill is close to NT$10 billion. In comparison, the NT$1.5 million fine imposed by the administration is a drop in the ocean.
Fines do not truly reflect the ecological value of the damage from large human-caused accidents in the environment. For example, the compensation sought for a forest fire at Batongguan (八通關) on Yushan (玉山), or Jade Mountain, was only enough to cover the labor and resources used to fight it, but not the ecological effects of the damage to the forest and the destruction of animal habitats.
The oil spill threatened the coastal ecosystem and revealed the lack of systematic long-term monitoring and research. After the disaster, it was impossible to gain a clear understanding of the species and number of them affected, not to mention the inability to calculate losses.
In the 2001 Amorgos oil spill off Kenting National Park — when a Greek cargo ship ran aground, causing an ecological disaster — a lack of sufficient evidence made it impossible for the authorities to obtain adequate compensation, and an international lawsuit resulted in major economic losses.
The government should focus on coastal ecosystems and take action to establish comprehensive long-term monitoring and research to protect blue carbon ecosystems. If there is a cap on penalties, the government should propose amendments so that fines are commensurate with losses and sufficient to intimidate those who destroy the environment.
Liu Yi-chun is a campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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