Taiwan, Eco-example to the Nations

This Asian island may be small and crowded, but it is also home to a wide variety of eco-initiatives that put countries like Israel to shame.

Zafrir Rinat
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Zafrir Rinat

As the United Nations marks International Day for Biological Diversity on Wednesday, countries around the world are taking the opportunity to size up their neighbors' conservation efforts – and to rethink their own. Israel would do well to look to Taiwan, which though similar in size boasts far larger and more effective biodiversity programs.

Like Israel, Taiwan is a small, densely populated country. And, like Israel, it has set aside about a fifth of its land for nature conserves. But while both countries have national biodiversity conservation programs, the difference is that in Israel these programs haven’t actually made any significant impact.

Israel does have a handful of unique projects that might receive assistance in the future – bird-tracking stations and long-term ecosystem research programs, for example. Yet lack of funding and low manpower, combined with the Environmental Protection Ministry's focus on other areas, prevent large-scale implementation of these projects and stymie efforts to make any real change.

Taiwan does things differently. The national program it recently unveiled includes a host of unique projects, including efforts to educate people about conservation, to involve local communities in conservation efforts, and to promote research on subjects such as land preservation and climate change.

The Endemic Species Research Institute in Nantou County, for example, operates three research centers in different areas to track various indigenous species. It even rears bears to learn more about their behavior and diet. The institute is in constant contact with locals and offers numerous community programs to promote conservation, including a seed bank for rare plants and a wildlife hospital. (Similar programs exist and flourish in Israel.)

Farther south is Xitou, home to an experimental forest designed to grow and preserve trees. And near the major city of Tainan is an eco-park entirely dedicated to the preservation of pheasant-tailed Jacana birds, a once-common species in Asia that became endangered in Taiwan after its habitat was destroyed.

Especially interesting is Taiwan's efforts to rehabilitate species and educate visitors in the Taiguang area, home to the country's newest park, which opened in 2009. The area has a vast number of salt and commercial pools for the cultivation of fish and mollusks, and the park oversees numerous conservation, education and research initiatives. Taiguang has even become a popular tourist destination thanks to the presence of the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill bird, which has found a safe haven there. 

Taiwanese coastline.Credit: Zafrir Rinat