What is the most beautiful sea turtle island in Taiwan? The research team of Professor Keryea Soong of the Department of Oceanography of National Sun Yat-sen University counted the sea turtles around Taiping Island, the southernmost territory of the Republic of China. The team used drones to take bird’s-eye views along around 1 km of the coastline of the island, up to 400 m off the coast, and spotted around 200 sea turtles on a total area of 0.2 square kilometers and estimated that over one thousand sea turtles live around the island’s reef flat covering an area of 1.6 square kilometers. This number is much higher than the number of sea turtles around Little Liuchiu of just over one hundred individuals.
“This great news for scientists and people interested in the ecology of sea turtles!”. Professor Soong pointed out that Taiping Island also called “the extreme south border (of Taiwan)”, lies 1600 km away from the island of Taiwan. It takes three days to reach Taiping Island on the deck of the R.O.C. Coast Guard vessels. At present, only one species of sea turtle was discovered to live around the waters of Taiping Island - the Pacific green turtle. Adult females of this species are double the size of males. Thanks to aerial drone images, the research team discovered that the body length of the sea turtles can reach 90 cm, while younger individuals are 30 cm long.
Professor Soong said that sea turtles are endangered animals under protection. The presence of sea turtles in this area is not only due to the fact that Taiping Island is their nesting site, but also, the surrounding seagrass beds are their feeding site. Many of these turtles must be staying there long-term. Comparing satellite images of Dongsha Island and Taiping Island, we can see contrasting water colors: dark waters around Dongsha with plenty of long and dense seagrasses, and bright waters of Taiping Island with a sandy seabed and very sparse seagrasses: this is due to the presence of numerous seagrass-eating sea turtles.
Professor Soong mentioned that, unlike the turtles living around the coasts of the island of Taiwan, the sea turtles of Taiping Island are not disturbed by tourists, so they can be observed on the beach nearly every evening. August and September is the peak nesting season for the sea turtles, however, it is still unconfirmed how many eggs they lay and how many hatchlings are born every year. Although no national park was instituted on Taiping Island, the Marine Bureau of Kaohsiung City Government designated it as a protected breeding site for sea turtles, which is very beneficial to the turtles. “Taiping Island is definitely the best place to research sea turtles”.
The Ministry of Science and Technology has now established two research stations in the South China Sea, one on Dongsha Atoll, and the other one on Taiping Island. One of the research focus is the rich diversity of marine life in the Coral Triangle. However, because of the troubled international relations, not much research is conducted. The two research stations are operated by the Department of Oceanography, NSYSU, and the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, National Taiwan University; natural resources and logistic support are provided for people from all over the world.