Read our COVID-19 research and news.

A group of demonstrators gathered on the beach near the proposed project on Saturday.

Jusmin Peng

Taiwanese scientists fight construction of a new port they say would damage a unique reef

TAIPEI—Taiwanese scientists and environmental groups are fighting to stop the planned construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal off the coast of Datan borough in the city of Taoyuan on Taiwan’s northwestern coast, which they say will damage a unique algal reef ecosystem. About 100 people gathered on the beach on 17 November to call for the project to be moved to another site.

The proposed terminal will span 9 square kilometers and include a U-shaped port with a bridge connecting it to two LNG storage tanks to be built in an existing industrial park nearby.

Taiwan’s new energy policy aims to phase out nuclear energy by 2025 and increase the share of natural gas in electricity generation to 50%. (Renewables will make up 20%, and coal the rest.) To meet those goals, a power plant in Datan will be expanded, and the only way to meet its demand schedule, according to the state-owned oil and gas firm CPC, is to build the LNG terminal nearby.

But scientists say construction will further damage a 27-kilometer reef along the Taoyuan coastline built up over 7500 years by a group of pink and purple algal species named crustose coralline algae. The reef is home to a wide variety of species, including hammerhead sharks, six species of moray eels, and the largest population of Polycyathus chaishanensis, an endangered coral species endemic to Taiwan that was first described in 2010.

Changes in sand movement caused by cement structures elsewhere along Taiwan’s coastline have led to significant coastal erosion, says Allen Chen, a reef biologist at Academia Sinica here who attended Saturday’s protests. Chen is worried that sand dispersal caused by the new port could leave parts of the reef exposed and more vulnerable to strong waves, while other parts could become buried in the sand. The port could also stop marine animals from approaching the reef.

CPC says the risk is minimal. In a statement emailed to Science, a spokesperson says the port is designed to reduce sand migration; surveys and computer simulations suggest breakwaters will divert sand-carrying waves and prevent the reef from being buried. To address environmental concerns, the terminal’s layout was redesigned in order to maintain the flow of nutrients, the spokesperson says. CPC will allocate funds annually toward conservation measures and set up a review committee that includes local authorities, residents, and scientists.

In July, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) subcommittee at Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Agency rejected the project based on independent evaluations, according to the Taipei Times. But in October, the agency’s EIA grand assembly overruled that decision and approved the project. It is now awaiting approval from Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, and the Taoyuan city government.

Chen says by the time the proposed plant would be completed, expansions of existing LNG terminals in Taichung and Tainan will be completed, reducing Taiwan’s LNG requirements. And by 2030, the rising cost of natural gas and attractive prices of renewable energy could make LNG entirely obsolete. “How could our government have such a short-sighted vision to destroy the algal reef just for satisfying the temporary need for LNG for 3 years or 5 years?” Chen asks.

“Who wouldn’t be convinced that we should try everything to fight for this habitat?” adds Hui-Chen Lin, a marine biologist at Tunghai University in Taichung who also attended the protest.