Sustainability & CSR
Tackling Taiwan's marine pollution problem
Taiwan's Ocean Affairs Council has ambitious plans and resources to stop pollution and clean up Taiwan's surrounding oceans
By Duncan Levine
For over 30 years international NGOs like the Ocean Conservancy and Greenpeace have been conducting annual beach clean-up events. With each passing year they have been joined by more and more local NGOs all across the world. Here in Taiwan, the ECCT has arranged its own annual beach cleaning event at a selected beach in Taiwan every year for the past 10 years. While these are noble and feel-good exercises, the inconvenient truth is that these efforts only address the symptoms of the problem and not the root causes. But that may all finally be about to change here in Taiwan following the establishment of the cabinet level Ocean Affairs Council (OAC).
Officially set up in 2018, with its headquarters opened a year later in Kaohsiung, the OAC has ambitious plans to put a stop to polluting activities, clean up legacy ocean debris and promote the sustainable development of marine resources.
The OAC is responsible for the overall planning, deliberation, coordination and implementation of general Taiwan's marine policy, promotion of the development of marine industry, marine environmental protection, resources management, sustainable development, biodiversity conservation and pollution prevention and control. Its stated mission is to defend national maritime rights and interests, provide a safe marine environment for people and deepen the conservation of marine resources. Its goals include developing a prosperous marine industry, fostering a culture of marine basic culture, and developing "forward-looking marine technology to connect with international ocean affairs".
As the ECCT learned from OAC Minister Lee Chung-wei and officials at their recent meeting, the OAC has comprehensive plans to both prevent the dumping of old fishing nets, oil and other waste as well as plans to clean up legacy waste on the ocean floor. The chamber's visit was set up following the realisation after 10 years of arranging annual beach cleaning activities that comprehensive solutions were needed to stop pollution at its source rather than just cleaning it up afterwards. And, one of the major culprits in Taiwan is the fishing industry. At the ECCT’s most recent beach cleaning activity, held in October 2019, more than 520 ECCT members from 16 companies collected nearly 1,000 kilograms of rubbish, most of it from the fishing industry.
The OAC is fully aware of the problem and has come up with some practical and innovative ways to tackle it. Among other initiatives, the OAC is introducing a bar-code system for fishing nets so that they can be tracked. It is also offering incentives to fishing boat owners to dispose of their unusable fishing nets at collection points in harbours as well as paying fishers by weight for other rubbish they collect during their voyages. The OAC is also using satellites, AI and big data to identify the location of ocean waste. The council also has a very ambitious plan to remove so-called "ghost nets" (discarded fishing nets from the ocean floor) within three years. To implement this plan, it is hiring fishing vessels, cranes, diving crews and other equipment (including radar systems to locate the nets).
Implementing these plans successfully will require a lot of ground work in terms of drafting and enforcing binding regulations, getting the necessary resources, educating fishers and the general public about pollution and the value of marine resources, and coordinating cooperation between government agencies and other stakeholders. However, the establishment of the OAC and its initial actions are an auspicious start towards cleaning up Taiwan's surrounding ocean and eventually ensuring a clean and sustainable development of Taiwan’s marine environment.