The XL Catlin Seaview Survey team has the privilege of calling beautiful Taiwan their playground for the next two weeks. This is the first visit of the team to Taiwan, and we are excited to survey the reefs of southern Taiwan in collaboration with Prof. Allen Chen and his wonderful team from Academia Sinica. Besides myself as the relative newcomer to the XL Catlin team, the rest of the team are seasoned veterans and include Pete Dalton as the field technical lead, and Catherine Kim and Dominic Bryant as XL Catlin Ocean Scholars.
If Pete were asked, he is likely to answer “to survey as many dumplings as possible”. The reality is that we are in Taiwan to survey reefs at Lyudao (Green Island), Kenting National Park, and South Penghu Marine National Park to introduce the novel 360° technologies and semi-automated image analyses to the Taiwan marine community, and to demonstrate how such technologies can be used for underwater surveys at large spatial scales. As such, the transects to be surveyed in Taiwan will generate a standardised dataset of coral cover and benthic composition for southern Taiwan and expand the global baseline of coral reef health. Good baseline data is the key to understanding the changes and recovery potential of coral reef systems in the face of change.
During this trip we will also be presenting a number of public talks – ranging from a gathering of local dive operators to a large public seminar at Academia Sinica in Taipei at the conclusion of the expedition. These events are a great opportunity to interact with people with a strong connection and interest in coral reefs and to share information and learn from each other.
The reefs around Green Island have a history of impact from the coral-killing sponge Terpios hoshinota but are showing good recovery. Green Island is also a tourism hotspot in Taiwan and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year – many of who come to dive and snorkel the fringing coral reefs and the world famous “Big Mushroom”. While Green Island continues to be a heavily promoted tourism destination, it currently has no protection in formal Marine Protected Areas. In contrast, both Kenting National Park and South Penghu Marine National Park are designated Marine Protected Areas with zoning plans.
Kenting National Park is interesting in that The Third Nuclear Power Plant, situated in the south-eastern part of the National Park began commercial operation in 1984. The warm outflow seawater from the cooling system has resulted in a decreasing coverage of certain coral groups, such as Acropora. On the other hand, at the inlet, a diverse Acropora community has developed, representing over 56% of the Acropora species diversity in Taiwan.
During this trip the XL Catlin team is very fortunate to be working alongside Prof. Allen Chen, who has a long history of involvement with the reefs of Taiwan and a distinguished research record. Allen and his team have been instrumental in the site selection, local logistics, and securing local government support and funding. We look forward to spending time with Allen and his team and learning more from them about Taiwan’s reefs.