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Taiwan : Penghu Archipelago


Taiwan lies 160 km off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island is 394 km long and 144 km wide. Massive and rugged mountains occupy almost 70% of the total land area with more than 100 peaks over 3000 m. Other minor islands and islets of Taiwan include Green Island, Orchid Island and the Penghu Archipelago. It is the latter, also known as Pescadores (from Portuguese “fishermen”) we are going to concentrate upon. The whole archipelago forms Penghu County,  Taiwan Province, Republic of China. It comprises 90 small islands covering an area of 141sq km with a population of about 100,000. The main islands of Magong City/Husi Township, Baisha Township and Siyu Township are the three most populous islands and are connected via bridges. Two shorter bridges connect Husi and Baisha. The bridge connecting Baisha and Siyu is the longest bridge in the Republic of China and is called the Penghu Trans-Oceanic Bridge. Unlike mountainous Taiwan, the Penghu islands are generally low lying, with wide grassland plains. There are many small towns and fishing villages dotted throughout the chain so it’s not surprising that there are almost 150 temples devoted to the Goddess Matsu, who is known as the traditional guardian and protector of fishermen and sailors.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

The capacity for wind power generation on and off the Penghu Islands is very high     as demonstrated by their existing wind farm.  Late 2010 the Taiwanese government unveiled plans for an 8MW offshore wind demonstration project to be operational by the end of 2012. In March 2011 a five-year, NT$8.09 billion (US$273.6 million) project to turn Penghu into a world-class low-carbon island was formally launched. The initiative, centred around the installation of wind turbines capable of generating 96 MW of power, is aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than 50% in 2015 from 2005 levels, to 2.1 tonnes per person per year from 5.4 tonnes. Renewable energy will account for 56% of the county’s total energy demand by 2015 and when the wind turbines produce excess electricity, it will be transmitted and sold to Taiwan via an underwater cable. As part of the plan, Penghu’s only thermal power plant at Jianshan will be closed in 2015 and turned into a transformer station.

Another key feature of the plan is to invite the Penghu County government and local residents to become stakeholders in the project. They are expected to acquire a 55% share of the company that will operate the wind farm, with the rest open to outside investors. Enercon GmbH from Germany, Vestas Wind Systems A/S from Denmark and Taiwan Cogeneration Corp have all expressed interest.

At the launch ceremony, Penghu County Commissioner said the strong northeast monsoon has been a curse on the county’s efforts to develop tourism, but it will now be a godsend. During the summer, when winds are mild, the island county will rely on electricity transmitted via a 58.8km underwater cable connecting Kouhu in Yunlin County on Taiwan’s western coast and Jianshan in Penghu. However, in the winter when winds are powerful, Penghu will be able to sell excess electricity to Taiwan.

The plan also incorporates other energy-efficient equipment. The Ministry of Economic Affairs will spend NT$400 million in 2011 to help install solar panels at bus stops and schools, smart meters for 2,106 households and provide 4,000 LED street lights, as well as purchase 6,000 electric motorcycles. It will also promote biodiesel fuel around the county.

Penghu will also play a major role in Taiwan’s efforts to harness ocean energy, a high priority for the government and their Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI). The national target is for a 200 MW installed capacity by 2025. With around 1500 km of coastline and a sub-tropical environment, Taiwan has been investigating two main strands of ocean energy development since 2005. One is Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, in which the country is at the forefront of global research thanks to ITRI’s collaboration with Lockheed Martin of the US. The second focus of Taiwan’s ocean push is to unlock the considerable potential of the waves and tidal currents around its shores. According to IRTI, studies have shown that the north-east offshore region of Taiwan has wave potential of several hundred megawatts, while the east coast’s Kuroshio path and the Pescadores Channel (off Penghu) have tidal current energy that could theoretically be tapped at gigawatt scale.  ITRI’s wave energy investigations have included close co-operation with Aquatera, an environmental and renewable energy consultancy based in Orkney, Scotland, site of the European Marine Energy Centre.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

The people of Taiwan have progressed far in recycling and minimizing waste. While in 1997, the amount of garbage produced per capita reached a historical high of 1.14 kilograms per day, by the end of 2008, that number had fallen by almost 51% to 0.52 kilogram per person per day. And whereas about 60% of people sorted and discarded their refuse properly in 1989, almost 100% of people did so in 2008. Moreover, Taiwan’s overall recycling rate reached 42% in 2008 – higher than those of many advanced nations, including France, Japan, the UK and USA.

Separation of recyclable materials is mandatory, and pick-up services are provided at least twice a week, with garbage trucks collecting and organizing over 30 categories of waste. The Environmental Protection Bureau  is responsible for waste management and recycling facilities for Penghu County.

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA)  Green Mark program has proven an effective means of promoting recycling, reducing pollution and conserving resources. Consumers are encouraged to purchase items bearing the Green Mark logo, which denotes recyclability or a lower environmental impact compared with similar products available. Further information about this program and Green Living generally can be found on this information platform.

Water Management & Security

Penghu County is perennially plagued by water shortages. This is due to several factors including low levels of precipitation, high evaporation rate of water, unreliable water storage in reservoirs, increasing salinity of groundwater source, and the growing tourism industry. Currently, there are 7 water reservoirs (including one underground reservoir), a 7000 ton/day seawater desalination plant, a 3000 ton/day plant, and three small water purification plants on satellite islands. However, the 7000 ton/day plant is planning to increase its capacity to 12,500 ton/day to meet long term water needs of the county.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

The Penghu Archipelago has sandy soil and very limited annual rainfall. Thus, local agricultural crops are mostly drought-resistant species. Major crops include peanuts, sweet potatoes, corn and string beans. Local residents also plant vegetables such as pumpkin, angled gourd, cabbage and a variety of leafy greens. Fruits include cantaloupe, Chiapao melon, tomato, dragon fruits and Yangmei melon. Since vegetables do not tolerate strong winds, which are common on Penghu, earlier residents built unique vegetable gardens throughout the archipelago. They consist of walls built with basalt and coral stones to protect plants from winds. Since most vegetables require frequent irrigation, these gardens are mostly constructed next to peoples’ houses and on some islands can cover a huge area forming an impressive sight. Such vegetable garden clusters have been designated as cultural heritage sites by the Penghu County Government.

In recent years, the county government, township office and food processing companies have promoted the planting of two economic crops, namely aloe and Fongru plant. Aloe has not only been made into jelly and juice, but also a complete line of beauty products such as facial cleanser, moisturizer and hand cream. Fongru is a wild species with flowers like miniature daises that locals boil to make tea. The taste is similar to other types of herbal tea commonly consumed in Taiwan, but with a local twist. The special taste became popular among tourists some years ago. Therefore, food processors began to sell Fongru tea bags. This move caused the price of the wild Fongru plant to rise considerably. The high price has in turn attracted local residents to domesticate the Fongru plant and grow it in their fields. Another plant worth mentioning is the wild cactus. Again, local people started using cactus fruit to make ice cream and juice some years ago, and these became very popular among tourists. Food processors then came up with a variety of products, including jelly and jam all made of cactus fruit. A distillery has also been established to produce liquors out of various local crops such as pumpkins, tithonia root and cactus.

Penghu is known throughout Taiwan as an unrivalled source of speciality seafood such as grouper, lobster, cuttlefish and squid. The excellent water quality also allows for extensive aquaculture with abalone, oyster, cobia and seaweed all being farmed. After five years of research, National Penghu University  has perfected the technology to raise high-value “sea grapes” that are credited with the ability to lower blood pressure, fight cancer and enhance beauty. The plant is prized among Japanese, who pay as much as NT$2,000 per kilogram for it. Sea grape resembles caviar when eaten, and is commonly called “green caviar”.


It is now possible to fly to Magong airport, Penghu from at least 5 domestic Taiwanese airports. Penghu residents qualify for a 20% subsidy for air tickets to Taiwan. During the summer months you can also take the ferry from Kaoshiung (3.5h) and Patai (90min).

The promotion of green transportation is an important consideration for Penghu County. As well as plans to substitute half of the 15,000 existing gasoline-powered scooters with electric ones by 2015, the government plans to introduce a pilot project for smart electric compact cars.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

The Penghu Islands were listed by Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide publisher, as one of the 10 best secret island groups in 2011. They were picked for preserving traditional Taiwanese culture as well as unspoiled natural scenery. It took particular note of Penghu’s basalt column formations, fish traps and stone walled fields, and the fact that endangered green turtles nest on its beaches from May to October. Locals maintain a tradition of leaving turtle-shaped offerings at temples across Penghu as part of the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the Lunar Year. While some tourists may shun Penghu between November and April for its exceptionally strong winds, the guidebook chose it for an impressive windsurfing experience. The archipelago also attracts more than 300 species of migratory birds and is particularly important for nesting terns, making it a popular spot for Asia’s birdwatchers.

In September 2009 residents voted against a plan to allow gambling in the Penghu Casino Referendum,  thus relying on their indigenous attractions to draw tourists. For more information about all these cultural and natural assets, major exhibition centres on the geology, history, marine resources and turtle conservation, Penghu Aquarium consult this website, read this tour guide and visit Penghu Living Museum.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

The Taiwan Biodiversity Information Facility  has data related to Penghu County which is one of the National Scenic Areas  of Taiwan and is divided into three recreation areas. National Scenic Areas fall within the control of the Tourism Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, while national parks  fall within the jurisdiction of the Construction and Planning Agency, Ministry of Interior. The philosophies that govern the development of each designation differ. For a national park the emphasis is on the preservation of natural and cultural resources, and development for human utilization is definitely a secondary priority. For a national scenic area, the priorities are more balanced between preservation and tourism utilization. This has led to conflicts between conservationists and those more favourable to the development of the area.

The existence of stone weirs in the world dates back over 700 years, but only a small number of them can still be found in the Okinawa archipelago, Japan, the Philippines, the Polynesian islands and Penghu. Stone weirs are fish traps built by early residents in Penghu with basalt and coral stones. Schools of fish that come close to the shore to feed at high tide swim into a stone weir either for food or shelter. As the tide begins to recede the fish find their way back blocked by the stone walls and become an easy catch for the weir owners.  

The last count of the number of stone weirs in Penghu totals an impressive 589. Jibei Isle village in Baisha Township boasts the highest concentration with 103. Some 45 of them are still intact and many of the damaged weirs are being restored. The building and maintenance of a stone weir takes a considerable amount of time and labour. It requires the participation and collaboration of an entire fishing village. As a result, a whole set of rules and regulations were developed regarding the construction, acquisition of ownership, maintenance, catch allocation, management and religious rituals related to a stone weir.

Over the years, motorized fishing boats gradually replaced traditional fishing methods. This resulted in over-fishing with fewer resources left close to the shore so the use of stone weirs has fallen a long way from its peak. However, recent research by National Penghu University has shown that inter-tidal zones formed by the stone weirs and nearby coral reefs are the most important habitats for the offshore species of the Penghu islands. In order to protect the habitats near the stone weirs, an investigation was carried into the biodiversity of species in the stone weirs and compared with results from the non-stone weir coastline. Their research has shown that there are 37 species in the stone weirs in Jebei, which concentrated in summer and autumn; 16 species in the stone weirs in Wude, which concentrate in summer only; and 17 species in the double-hearted stone weirs in Chimei, which distribute evenly throughout the year. The biodiversity index species in the stone weir area is higher than that of the non-stone weir areas.

In an attempt to preserve these still intact stone weirs and their traditional culture, local government agencies, departments from the local university and several private associations together launched the Penghu Stone Weir Cultural Festival in 2005. The goals were to introduce this unique marine culture to the general public in Taiwan. By so doing, they hoped to spread and carry forward the wisdom of their ancestors and continue helping to restore damaged stone weirs to preserve biodiversity as a form of ecological tourism. 

Four islets in the Penghu archipelago – Siyuping, Dongyuping, Siyi and Dongyi – are expected to be designated a marine national park  in 2011 making it the second in Taiwan after Dongsha,  at the north of the South China Sea, which was set up in 2007. The Taiwanese Coral Reef Society has found more than 200 species of fish in the area of which 28 are native to Penghu. These two publications    provide further information about these coral reefs.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

Taiwan, due to its political circumstances, has been unable to officially participate in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Nevertheless, Taiwan is proud of its record on environmental protection and has initiated nationally appropriate mitigation actions  .