Taiwan Journal, 22nd August 2008

Researchers from Academia Sinicia have uncovered the largest algal reef in eastern Taiwan along the coast of Shanyuan Bay in Taitung County.

"It’s quite surprising to discover such a large patch of algal reefs that are relatively undisturbed by human activities," said Allen Chao-lun Chen, an associate researcher at Academia Sinica’s Research Center for Biodiversity Aug. 14.

According to Chen, algal reefs, formed by crystalline calcium carbonates left by dead calcareous algae, usually grow at the extremely slow rate of 0.1 centimeters to 0.2 centimeters in thickness per year. Coral communities can be found in waters 1 kilometer off the coastline at a depth of 8 meters to 10 meters.

In addition to the newly-discovered algal reef, Shanyuan Bay also boasts a dense and diverse cornularia coral community in which a wealth of fish, shrimp and shell species live–a phenomenon not seen in other areas in Taiwan, Chen noted.

The largest algal reef in Taiwan was located off Taoyuan County in northwestern Taiwan, which is 4 kilometers long and 500 meters wide. Most of Taiwan’s coral reefs are found off the island’s southern coastlines, as well as its outlying islands.

The discovery coincides with a U.N. global coral reefs survey and the International Year of the Reef. Chen’s decade-long study to conduct a survey of the marine ecology in Shanyuan Bay, Green Island, and the Penghu Islands was commissioned by the ROC government this year.

According to the researcher, the most encouraging part of his find was that a stem of Oulophyllia bennettae coral was seen in the bay. Chen explained this was the first time the coral strain, which is normally seen in the Indian Ocean, had been recorded in Taiwanese waters.

But Chen expressed concern that unchecked tourism development could harm coral reefs in the region. "Since some areas of the algae reefs have already been damaged, the government should take immediate steps to better manage and protect Shanyuan Bay."

Fan Tong-yun, a researcher from the Taiwan Coral Research Center, said that currents of the western Pacific Ocean have created coral conditions in Taiwan far superior to those in many other countries. "For example, coral reefs around the island have escaped bleaching because of the currents that prevent sea temperatures form rising too high," Fan noted.

"Taiwan is a world leader in coral conservation as a result of its marine biologists and research centers, such as the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium," he said. "Taiwan may in fact be the Noah’s Ark of corals. However, we still need to increase the number of research programs if we are to confirm this belief."

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