Disappearing algae reef: Taiwan's algae reef referendum

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Intro: Is the algal reef a biological or a political problem?

At the 2021 Taiwan referendum, as a Taiwanese college student who had the right to vote for the first time, I was very excited about the referendum.  Because it is the first time I participated in this kind of political activity in my life, and thus I was full of curiosity about each proposal.

The 2021 Taiwan referendum includes: 1. to activate the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District, New Taipei City; 2. calling for a ban on imports on pork containing ractopamine; 3. holding referendums alongside nationwide elections; and 4. relocating a natural gas terminal to protect algal reefs off Taoyuan's Guanyin District. 

At the beginning, in major social media, newspapers and magazines, news broadcast programs, etc., there was a lot of information for the people's reference, and I mainly obtain the knowledge about algae reef through these platforms. However, I am confused about why can we, a young man like me or other people who are not professionals, decide this professional issue by political means? 

After some research and study, I did by myself, the topic of the referendum that interested me the most was the Algae Reef, meanwhile I was very curious about the factors and the problems behind this topic, so I did this research to find out.

Relevant social GROUPS of THE ALGAl REEF referendum (ARF referendum)

The image shows many different groups that are related to the algae reef, such as DPP, KMT, environmental groups...etc. Though there are more groups that are also related to the algae reef but those are the groups that I consider the most influential and I will talk about them respectively in this essay.

In this article, I will explore the following issues in order:

First, what are the social economic or political power that cause this referendum?

Second, what role did different groups, such as some environmental protection groups like Wilderness Conservation Association and Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan, Kuomintang (KMT), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP),  residents in Datan play in the referendum?

Third, what are the point of view of "environmental protection" of different groups?

Fourth, are there any connections or relationships between those groups? Who has the dominance?

I hope that through this article, some facts can be clarified, and these issues can be pointed out through objective analysis.

In this article, I mainly use Archive Study as my research method, and I have collected a lot of referendum information at the time before the referendum, including election bulletins, referendum news, and some data on the website of the Environmental Protection Association. Through this data, I was able to answer the above questions and analyze them in a more systematically way.

The early history of algal reef referendum

This is the timeline of the referendum, beacause it will not be a complete timeline if I only put either one of them, so I combined two pictures made by The Society of Wilderness and Environmental Informational Center. 

It shows that Mr. Pan who initially proposed the issue of protecting the algae in 2020 June and July, and it did not officially enter the official stage of the referendum until March 2021. Moreover, I think March was also an important turning point in the whole process, because when it officially became a referendum, the event became no longer simple.

I also found that almost all the political news about algae reefs appeared after it , so it can be said that after March 2021, algae reefs have become politicized.

Extreme environmentalism?The Society of Wilderness

First, I will introduce two different environmental protecting group that has the opposite status of this referendum, and then talk about two main political party in Taiwan. This is a picture of a environmental protecting group the Society of Wilderness protesting about environmental issue.

The purpose of the Society of Wilderness is to acquire the custody and management of the wasteland through purchase, long-term lease, entrustment, or donation, to protect it, and to allow nature to manage itself as much as possible and restore its vitality. Let us and future generations explore the mysteries of nature and understand the meaning of life from the deliberately preserved wilderness of Taiwan.

They emphasized that Taoyuan Algae Reef is the largest algae reef ecosystem in the world on a shoal, it is rich in ecology and supporting nearly 100 species of organism; moreover, it has been listed by the international conservation organization Mission Blue as the first ecological hope hotspot in East Asia.

 

THE ECONOMIC concerns underneath ALGAl REEF REFERENDUM

The third natural gas receiving station is a power plant that provide electricity to north Taiwan some says that it is necessary to keep; however, other people say that its construction will destroy the natural environment where algae reef live.

Another important fact to know is that DPP keeps promote the concept of energy transition. They want to decrease the use of thermal power plant due to control the air pollution isse in Taiwan.

The photo is edited by Ministry of Economic Affairs and it shows the main topic of the referendum, whether to agree to the relocation of the third natural gas receiving station of Chinese Petroleum Corporation(CPC) from the coast and sea area of Datan Reef in Taoyuan?

The following are the respective arguments of the two sides:

The opposing parties believe that the third natural gas receiving station is an important construction for Taiwan's energy transformation, coal burning, and air pollution reduction, and the decisions made by the Taiwan authorities have been jointly discussed and decided by various ministries.

The supporter’s point of view is that the problem is not the construction of the third natural gas receiving station but the location of it. Nowadays, the Taiwan authorities have moved the third natural gas receiving station to the outer sea in order to reduce the impact on the ecology, but on the contrary increase the impact on the surrounding ecology.

Long story short, if the referendum passed, the economical development in Taiwan will not be as nice as the opposite result.

Air or algal? Citizen of the Earth

Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan is an environmental group that has moved from a supporter to an opposing position. Its CEO Li Genzheng believes that because the current plan proposed by the Ministry of Economy is indeed moving toward to the goal of mitigating ecological impacts, and the conservation campaign of Datan Algae Reef has achieved many important achievements such arouse people’s recognition of the algae and successfully send the EIA variance analysis report to the Environmental Impact Assessment Review Committee.

He also said, "We cannot ignore the important role played by the third natural gas receiving station in the energy transition, so insisting on leaving Datan through a referendum is not the best choice for Taiwan."

What they aim at is not only the protetion of algae reef, but the whole environment of Taiwan. Their goal is to do some effort to the concept "energy transition", because they are more unlikely to see the use of thermal power plant compare to the damage of the algae reef, as the thermal power plants cause great air pollution.

An interesting point I found in this picture is that the supporting unions including some other environmental protecting group and the teacher's union are all located in Kaousiung where most of the people support DPP.

DPP's Point of view for AR referendum

Taoyuan Mayor Zheng Wencan explained that in 2014, the administrative agency announced the closure of the fourth nuclear plant and launched the third natural gas receiving station plan of CPC, is mainly for the supply of gas for the new machines of the Datan Power Plant, which is a supporting plan for the "non-nuclear homeland" and achieves the goal of "reducing coal and air pollution", but it is also the source of conflict on the issue of algae reef.

President Tsai Ing-wen said, "Protecting our homeland is our mission, we have the same goal, but the way we choose to achieve it may be a little different." The most important task at this stage is to make the facts clear. Especially for the algae reef, she believes that many people are for conservation, and the DPP has also done its best to protect the algae reef, the central and local governments have joined forces to invest in the 27-kilometer coastal conservation of Taoyuan, including Guanxin Algae Reef, and then plan to set up a fund to promote systematic conservation of many algae reefs throughout Taiwan.

KMT'S POINT OF VIEW FOR AR REFERENDUM

For KMT, any political views and positions of DPP seem to be wrong. The data of KMT that I have found on the Internet can be roughly divided into two categories, one is to advocate that the referendum on the reef is the decisive point of the two parties, obviously seeing the referendum as a means of political struggle, and the other is the speech against the DPP.

Although the two parties have been insulting each other through the media, after this information inquiry, I found out that the political party could use "to win over the other party" as a reason to call on the people to vote, which made me feel bad and a little sad.

I found that DPP has the strategy of "changing current situation" by promoting "energy transition"and emphasize the use of the third natural gas receiving station; on the other hand,  KMT during this referendum war, they put emphasis on the concept of "environment protection".

Who is the expert?

The photo is a combination of the screenshots I took in the debating TV show of algae reef. This show was recorded and upload a week before the referendum, there are only two men in this show, the man on the up left is the host and the other is Mr Pan, the leader of The society of wilderness, who hope the third natural gas receiving station can be moved away.

In my opinion, I regard "the Expert" as the one who has the dominance in this issue; however, what I find out is that some seious words like "definitely", "must", "deliberately" are used to deny others; meanwhile, when they try to support themseles without enough evidence, they will use such words like "probably" and "maybe". This situation made both sides seem to be very professional by denying other's opinion and speak loudly about how they investigate, calculate or evaluate. 

In this case, I think no one is the only expert who have the absolute power to speak; in other words, everyone is experts as long as they observe the algae reef issue in a correct aspect, which is defined by theirself. That is, both of them are right in some degree, we can not say which side is truly the right answer for this referendum. 

The final result and the reflection

After reading my various analyses of the referendum, I feel that the referendum is full of political intentions. And after the result of the vote turns out to be disagree, it is not surprising that as I have deduced, among these groups, the DPP occupies the greatest dominance.

However, I find it sad to reach this conclusion, because the main topic of this referendum, "Algae Reef", has become a means of fighting each other in the political arena, and the arguments for the natural ecology can be seen as the support for DPP or KMT.

I think it is extremely important to make a trade-off between economic and natural aspects in the development of a country, so I very much agree with the experts in different field to come forward and put their views forward and to involve all members of society in this discussion. But I think that covering up the political intentions behind an important issue through packaging such as referendums and environmental protection is an act of depriving the people of Taiwan of justice. We, as citizens, should carefully consider the real meaning behind the votes, and those in power should stop using these methods to get their own profits.

At the same time, maybe we should think about whether use the form "referendum" to solve this problem a good method or not ? Is it good to completely embrace democracy ?

The connection between the result of the referendum and the local political tendency

From these two images, we can see that the final result of the referendum is actually highly correlated with the long-term bias of political positions in various places, and the counties that are more inclined to KMT have more tendencies to support the position in this referendum; and the counties that support the DPP are more inclined to stand in the oppose the position.

They not only shows the high correlation between the referendum results and political leanings, but also from another perspective, it can also be seen that most people actually lack opinion, and often blindly follow the parties they support for policy decisions.

Another point I have noticed is that some Non Goverment Organization located in south Taiwan tend to agree with DPP; for example, in the sixth photo I put, all of the associations behind which had a flag are from Kaosiung and stand with DPP.

Does Referendum democracy represent public interest and provide best solution?

When the major mainstream media pages were occupied by KMT and DPP, I was surprised to find that news and articles about local residents were not easy to find, and when I finally found them, their position surprised me.

After reading articles from different groups, arguments from different positions, and the opinion I heard of more often at that time, I always thought that the local people were on a supportive side. However, they present four reasons for their opposite choice:

First, there is no alternative after the third natural gas receiving station were abolished.

Second, The Datan Algae Reef has already been polluted by heavy metals.

Third, the people have accepted the feedback program.

Fourth, the third natural gas receiving station in turn promote the growth of coral reefs.

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Created date

April 20, 2022

Cite as

羅煥鈞 and Sharon Ku. 20 April 2022, "Disappearing algae reef: Taiwan's algae reef referendum", Disaster STS Network, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 15 June 2022, accessed 27 June 2022. http://www.disaster-sts-network.org/content/disappearing-algae-reef-taiwans-algae-reef-referendum