Search

 

Cablegate: Invasive Species Flood Taiwan Rivers and Lakes

VZCZCXRO2681
RR RUEHCD
DE RUEHIN #2462/01 3130755
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 090755Z NOV 07
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7347
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVER
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVER
RUEHC/DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 AIT TAIPEI 002462

SIPDIS

SENSITIVES
SIPDIS

STATE PASS OES/ENV; INTERIOR FOR NATIONAL PARK SERVICE OIA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV TBIO ECON TW
SUBJECT: INVASIVE SPECIES FLOOD TAIWAN RIVERS AND LAKES


TAIPEI 00002462 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. This is an action cable see paragraph 9.
Taiwan, an island 160 kilometers off the coast of China, has
been home to unique flora and fauna. Distance from the
mainland has managed to preserve many of its endemic species
from foreign invasion, although that situation is under
threat as humans illegally introduce more foreign species.
Recent studies show, for example, that out of 51 streams
surveyed in Taiwan, 49 harbor invasive species from Southeast
Asia, Africa and Latin America. These foreign species are
polluting Taiwan's environment and endangering its native
species. Public education and enforcement measures both need
strengthening to help protect native species. Religious
practices are also a major contributor to the demise of
endemic species, as the faithful release fish into the
environment to garner favor. If uncontrolled, these invasive
species could seriously deplete the fragile endemic
biodiversity on the island. END SUMMARY

GEOGRAPHICAL FACTORS IN TAIWAN
------------------------------

2. (SBU) Taiwan is a mountainous island, with no large
rivers and mostly seasonal streams. According to experts,
this habitat cannot sustain large fish due to the lack of
nutrients in its freshwater bodies. As a result, the fish
fauna of about 140 species is restricted to small species
which can eke out a living in this limited habitat. An
example is the Goby population on the East coast which
migrate from the ocean to small mountain streams to mature.
Carp, a relatively large fish, was introduced from the
mainland, and now is common in lowland ponds and streams.
Experts have pointed out that, unlike the mainland, Taiwan
does not have well-established habitats for its native
species, a situation that invites foreign species to come in
and take over. Of 51 streams surveyed in a recent study
commissioned by the Council for Agriculture, only two streams
in Taiwan were found not to have invasive species, and both
were located in mountainous areas. The study also found that
higher-altitude streams harbored fewer invasive species due
to lower temperatures and the scarcity of food.

SNAKEHEADS AND PIRANHA IN THE LAKES
-----------------------------------

3. (SBU) The diversity of foreign species in Taiwan
freshwater is truly astonishing, ranging from Pirarucu and
Piranha native to the Amazon river in Brazil to Sweetfish
(Plecoglossus altivelis) from Japan. Although there is no
proof that the large Pirarucu (Arapaima gigas) is breeding in
Taiwan's water bodies, the warm water habitats provided by
dams and lakes have already bred numbers of piranha and
snakeheads. Of these species the snakehead (Channa striata)
from Southeast Asia is the most aggressive and voracious. It
has no natural enemies, and feeds at night, often crawling on
land from one water body to another. It has also spread from
dams to lakes to ponds, has been feeding on ducks and other
waterfowl, and will not hesitate to bite when threatened.
There have been suggestions from the authorities to
encourage public consumption of the snakehead as a means of
controlling it. However, this has the potential of
encouraging the breeding of this fish if it becomes a popular
food. The other so-called pest fish is the ubiquitous Pipa
Mousefish (Pterygoplichthys multiradiatus), named because its
body resembles the pipa, a musical instrument. It is a
bottom feeder that routinely is kept in aquariums to clean
the algae from the tank. Since its introduction from Brazil
before 1978, it has found its way into multiple lakes, ponds
and streams. Because it can survive in polluted environments
and does not have natural enemies, it has thrived unmolested.


RELIGIOUS PRACTICES DETRIMENTAL TO NATIVE SPECIES
--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (SBU) ESTH officer spoke with professor Chen I-shiung, a
recognized expert on freshwater fish at the National Ocean
University in Keelung, about the root causes of foreign
invasive species. Chen said that as a subtropical island,
Taiwan can easily accommodate these interlopers (who are
mostly from tropical areas)--but at the expense of native
species. Because foreign species have not developed
predators yet, they can multiply with impunity and deplete
the native species rapidly. Chen said the public has a poor
understanding of the effect of releasing aquarium fish into
the environment. This is compounded by the Buddhist
religious practice of releasing animals into the wild. Many
religious groups believe that by releasing animals, they are
gathering goodwill in the heavens. To bridge that religious

TAIPEI 00002462 002 OF 003


gap is going to take a strong public education effort which
the authorities are not prepared to fund.

TILAPIA: THE MOST COMMON TAIWAN FISH?
-------------------------------------

5. (SBU) The most common, if not the earliest, fish
introduced into Taiwan was the Tilapia, native to Mozambique.
It was introduced in 1946 and today can be found today in
virtually every body of water on the island. Tilapia
reproduce quickly, can live in lakes up to 700 meters above
sea level and have a long dorsal fin which makes them
difficult to swallow by other fish. They have become so
ingrained in the local cuisine that Tilapia fillets are
routinely served as fish fillets in restaurants, and locals
even think it is a native fish. One example of the
adaptability of foreign species is Tsuifeng Lake at 1,840
meters altitude. Whereas the lake did not traditionally have
any fish, it now brims with ornamental carp, released mostly
by religious groups. The worst-hit is Lake Cheng-ching in
Kaohsiung where Pirarucu, Piranha coexist with snakeheads and
Wuchang bream (Megalobrama amblycephala), driving native
species to the verge of extinction.

WILL THE ICE-AGE RELIC SURVIVE?
-------------------------------

6. (SBU) The endangered Cherry Blossom Salmon (Onchorhynchus
Masou Formosanum), a relic of the Ice Age brought back from
the brink of extinction through the efforts of concerned
officials, is struggling to survive in its final remaining
habitat: 5 km of stream in central Taiwan. Professor Chen
said that species is being bred to the point of extinction,
since scientists release thousands of fish fry every season
into the only stream where it is found. Since its natural
habitat can only sustain a small population of a few hundred,
the massive release of fish fry could potentially weaken the
gene pool. Despite media reports heralding the successful
breeding of this species, it is confined to only one stream,
and without an alternative habitat it could easily become
extinct if environmental stresses are brought to bear.

TAIWAN'S BIODIVERSITY AT RISK
-----------------------------

7. (SBU) Only two streams in Taiwan are free of invasive
species, the Hoping River near Ilan and the Fengkang River in
Pingtung. They are the exception, because they are
fast-flowing and the surrounding area is not suitable for
long-term human habitation. Besides a strengthened public
education campaign, tougher enforcement is needed to
forestall a complete takeover by invasive species. Most
critical for the long-term however, is finding new habitats
to accommodate Taiwan's threatened endemic species. That is
a tall order on this island of 23 million where industrial
development has priority over protection of endemic species.
At current rates of invasion, it is likely that endemic
species will become marginalized from most of their habitats
in a few years.

ENFORCEMENT WEAK
----------------

8. (SBU) In terms of managing its biodiversity, Taiwan
faces two issues, one has to do with public education, the
other with enforcement. While changing people's religious
beliefs will be difficult, enforcing the law is a good way
to begin controlling invasive species. Taiwan's national
parks are administered by the Construction and Planning
Agency (CPA), which is part of the Ministry of Interior. CPA
staff admitted that Taiwan needed something equivalent to the
U.S. National Park Service but since the bureaucracy moved
slowly no concrete plans were in the works. CPA staff at
three different National Parks said they had not been aware
of people fined for dumping fish in the streams although
there were regulations prohibiting such behavior. They claim
that policing is adequate within the park but admit that
outside park boundaries enforcement may be lax. What is
needed are clear procedures on how to enforce the existing
regulations and the equivalent of park rangers who can
enforce the law and issue fines to violators. On that score,
Taiwan's park administrators and county officials could learn
a point or two from their U.S. counterparts.

ACTION FOR OES/ENV
------------------l

9. (SBU) AIT ESTHOFF learned that Taiwan National Park

TAIPEI 00002462 003 OF 003


officials would very much like to have an exchange with their
U.S. counterparts. CPA is sponsoring a conference on
National Parks, Wetlands and Seashore from December 19-20 in
Taipei and wished to invite U.S. participants from the
National Park system to share experiences in wetlands and
park planning and management. AIT will provide conference
information including registration, agenda, time and venue
when available to OES.
YOUNG

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

New IPCC Report: ‘Unprecedented Changes’ Needed To Limit Global Warming

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require “far-reaching and unprecedented changes,” such as ditching coal for electricity to slash carbon emissions, says a special report that finds some of the actions needed are already under way, but the world must move faster… More>>

ALSO:

Jamal Khashoggi: UK, France, Germany Join Calls For Credible Investigation

Germany, the United Kingdom and France share the grave concern expressed by others including HRVP Mogherini and UNSG Guterres, and are treating this incident with the utmost seriousness. More>>

ALSO:

MSF Not Wanted: Nauru Government Shows Continued Callousness

The Nauruan Government’s decision to ask Doctors Without Borders to immediately leave shows continued callousness towards asylum seekers desperately seeking a safe place to call home, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman said today. More>>

ALSO:

Sulawesi Quake, Tsunami: Aid Response Begins

Oxfam and its local partners are standing by to deploy emergency staff and resources to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, as an estimated 1.5 million people are thought to be affected by the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit on Friday. More>>

ALSO:

Decriminalising Same-Sex Relationships: UN Rights Chief Applauds Indian Decision

“This is a great day for India and for all those who believe in the universality of human rights," Bachelet said. "With this landmark decision, the Indian Supreme Court has taken a big step forward for freedom and equality...” More>>

ALSO: