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Wind farms to be monitored to protect animals

The government would more strictly monitor the construction of offshore wind farms to protect marine animals, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said yesterday.

The government would use an automatic identification system for ships as well as other technological tools to protect the animals, it said.

The developers of 24 wind farm projects have since last year begun construction on land and offshore after passing the agency’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) reviews.

However, as many of the wind farms off the west coast are near the habitats of Taiwanese humpback dolphins, conservationists have been calling for more efforts to monitor the projects.

The EPA is tasked with monitoring whether the developers comply with the promises they made during their EIA reviews, and it works with other government agencies to improve its monitoring capabilities, given it has no ships, Bureau of Environmental Inspection Deputy Inspector-General John Chiang (姜祖農) told a news conference in Taipei.

For example, the EPA since 2019 has been working with the Ocean Conservation Administration (OCA) to establish marine ecology monitoring standards, he said.

In addition to using uncrewed aerial vehicles to monitor construction, the agency has partnered with the Maritime and Port Bureau to use automatic identification systems to check if the developers dispatch ships as promised, he said.

While the promises made by the developers vary from case to case, they are all required to dispatch observation ships around their construction sites when driving piles into the seabed to prevent vessels from hitting marine animals, Chiang said.

In 2019, the bureau fined developers of Formosa 1 – the nation’s first operational wind farm off Miaoli County – NT$1.5 million (US$52,685 at the current exchange rate) for failing to dispatch observation ships, Chiang said.

Last year, it fined the developers of the Yunneng wind farm off Yunlin County NT$400,000 after their observation ships were found to have left their patrol area earlier than scheduled, he added.

While some ship operators might turn off automatic identification systems to avoid tracking, inspectors can still track their movements through coastal radar systems managed by the Coast Guard Administration, Maritime and Port Bureau sector chief Liu Cheng-shan (劉正善) said.

A marine survey by the OCA found only 64 Taiwanese humpback dolphins in the waters from the coast of New Taipei City’s Tamsui District (淡水) to the coast of Tainan, OCA section chief Ko Ching-lin (柯慶麟) said.

The number is a slight decrease from previous years and the OCA is working with the EPA to draft a plan to protect the species, he said.