Diving in Kenting National Park – Kenting

Taiwan is not often synonymous with diving. Instead, Taiwan conjures images of enormous night markets, bubble tea and the glitzy and busy capital of Taipei. But if you venture to the south of the island one discovers the lush forests and clear blue waters of Kenting National Park.

Map of Taiwan

Photo credit: Intrepid introvert

Taiwan is an island located to the south of the Asian continent. The island is bisected by the Tropic of Cancer (23.5° N) which creates two climates that are influenced by latitude, island topography and ocean currents. The northern part of the island is subtropical while the southern part is tropical [1,2]. Both the Kuroshio Current and the strong Pacific and South China Sea ocean currents flow around the south side of the island. The Kuroshio current maintains water temperatures above 20° Celsius, creating a relatively stable range of temperatures year-round [2]. These optimal environmental conditions and ocean currents allow many different coral species to flourish. The biodiversity that has developed here over thousands of years has led to a spectacular showcase of dive sites.

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Kenting National Park (KNP) was established in 1984, enveloping these fragile regions of exceptional biodiversity. In addition to being Taiwan’s first national park, it was one of the world’s first parks that included underwater boundaries [2,3]. By establishing a Marine Protected Area, it has prevented commercial fishing from taking place within the park’s boundaries for approximately 35 years. This in turn prevented corals from being damaged by dredge-type fishing, a fishing method that drags nets across the bottom of the ocean floor. This method destroys corals and decimates local biodiversity.

Studies have found over 40 different species of coral reefs in the park. In 2003 another two new species of red seaweeds were discovered [4]. Recreational divers worked with scientists for 10 years to publish a study in 2004 assessing how many different marine shell (bivalve) species were present. The divers found 471 different species of clams, oysters and so on [5]. In addition to the ecological advantage offered to this region by the locally established Marine Protection Area, the bombardment of Taiwan by the Kuroshio Current attracts many different marine vertebrates such as sea turtles, manta rays, shark and whale sharks [6,7].

Considering all of these factors, it’s evident why the diving in KNP is amazing. I was lucky enough to dive with CT divers, a company founded by the couple Carrie Tsai and Tony Wu who are based within the borders of KNP. Originally from Taipei, both Carrie and Tony moved to Kenting after diving brought them both to fall in love with the ocean. They left Taipei and established their dive shop about 10 years ago, and since then their high standard of service and fluent English abilities have made them a favorite among international tourists.

MAP

We were able to experience two of Carrie and Tony’s favorite dive sites. The first was Carrie’s favorite dive site, called the Soft Coral Garden for the sheer number of nudibranchs (sea slugs) that can be found by careful observers. When we dove with Carrie, her sharp eyes spotted nudibranchs all along the sea floor. With a maximum depth of 15 meters we were able to view variety of soft corals. The best part of the dive was a goldmine of soft corals thriving in a stream of colder water about 12 meters deep in the middle section of the garden. It was there that we found the largest number of nudibranchs, like Anne’s chromodoris (Chromodoris annae) as well as the “sexy” or squat shrimp (Thor amboinensis), and the bluefin trevally (Caranx melampygus).

Another favorite site of both Carrie and Tony is Barracuda Point AKA Chu Shui Kou. They love it because upon entry to the site one can usually find a school of yellow tail barracudas greeting divers. Its depth is also about 10 to 15 meters. Though we didn’t see it on our dive, there is one flame scallop (Ctenoides scaber) usually found in the site as well. However, we did spot a convict snake eel (Leiuranus versicolor) breaking out of prison, as well as a black sailfin blenny (Black Sailfin Blenny). As we ascended, we were waved goodbye by a couple of squid and cuttlefish. Both of these sites and many others can be dived year-round by those with a minimum of an Open Water Certification. Though we didn’t have the opportunity to go during this dive trip, Carrie and Tony also recommend visiting Green and Orchard Island which offers some amazing diving as well.

Though Kenting National Park has been well preserved by government action and regulation, it has seen its fair share of changes and disturbances. As the demand for leisure activities in Taiwan has increased, the tourism industry in the KNP has boomed, causing major developments along the coast line. This in turn has increased the amount of foot traffic which has led to an increase in domestic sewage. Unfortunately, this means that untreated municipal wastes and agricultural wastes are dumped into rivers and streams, which ultimately make their way to the ocean and have negative consequences on the coral reef [8].

In 2001, the Amorgos, a Greek merchant vessel, ran aground and caused a serious oil spill [9]. Studies showed that chemicals called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are derived from petroleum products were found within the coral in 2004[10]. 2009 was not a good year either as the KNP experienced two additional oil spills [11], and, if that wasn’t enough, a category 9 typhoon [12]. However, the corals have slowly been recovering since then, and the Ministry of Agriculture has worked with the help of Marine Biologists to introduce artificial reefs to restore some of the damage [2].

Overfishing is a problem that Carrie and Tony have also noticed. They recount seeing commercial fishing boats just outside the KNP Marine Protected Area borders. Although the government response has improved for catching illegal fishing within the park boundaries the relevant bodies are still underfunded. Sometimes, Carrie and Tony have to call the park police themselves to help the park authority catch illegal fishers. This collaboration between diving companies and the local park authority has established a Scuba Diving Tourism System which is a model that educates diving companies, their students, and international divers to respect the reefs and focus on marine environmental conservation [13].

Squat Shrimp

Sexy or Squat Shrimp – Thor amboinensis – Photo Credit – CT Divers

CT divers have focused on being an eco-friendly dive shop and emulate the aims of an eco-friendly business model. Unlike other dive shops and diving instructors, they have a “No Glove Policy” meaning that they do not give gloves to the students because they do not want to encourage the students to touch the corals or any marine wildlife. In addition, they focus heavily on buoyancy during their instructional courses to avoid their students hitting anything or kicking up too much sand. Lastly, they do not bait or feed any fish. As part of PADI’s Project Aware, they have focused on removing waste on every dive and they will be organizing a beach cleanup this year.

With small dive companies and local authorities and governments collaboratively leading the charge on marine conservation, there is some hope that some of Taiwan’s best diving will be preserved for future diving generations. It goes to show that it doesn’t matter if you are a small dive shop or not, every small action has huge impacts. If you are looking to explore a new diving destination, check out some of the spectacular dive sites in Kenting National Park.

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Tony Wu and Carrie Tsai

***This article would not have been possible without the knowledge and expertise of Carrie Tsai and Tony Wu. Thank you CT divers and keep up the great work!***

References

[1] Executive Yan Republic of China. (2016). Geography and Demographics. Retrieved from: https://english.ey.gov.tw/cp.aspx?n=1082F2A7077508A

[2] Hsu, M., & Agoramoorthy, G. (1999). Conserving the Biodiversity of Kenting National Park, Taiwan: Present Status and Future Challenges.

[3] Tsai, W.-H., Chou, W.-C., & Lai, C.-W. (2010). An effective evaluation model and improvement analysis for national park websites: A case study of Taiwan. Tourism Management, 31(6), 936–952. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tourman.2010.01.016

[4] Chen, C. A., & Shashank, K. (2009). Taiwan as a connective stepping-stone in the Kuroshio traiangle and the conservation of coral ecosystems under the impacts of climate change.

[5] Lee, S.-C., & Chao, S.-M. (2004). Shallow-water marine shells from Kenting National Park, Taiwan. Collection and Research, 17, 33–57.

[6] Ebert, D. A., White, W. T., Ho, H.-C., Last, P. R., Nakaya, K., Seret, B., … De Carvalho, M. R. (2013). An annotated checklist of the chondrichthyans of Taiwan. Zootaxa, 3752(1), 279–386.

[7] Cruz, F. A., Joung, S.-J., Liu, K.-M., Hsu, H.-H., & Hsieh, T.-C. (2013). A preliminary study on the feasibility of whale shark (Rhincodon typus) ecotourism in Taiwan. Ocean & Coastal Management, 80, 100–106. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2013.03.017

[8] Liu, P.-J., Meng, P.-J., Liu, L.-L., Wang, J.-T., & Leu, M.-Y. (2012). Impacts of human activities on coral reef ecosystems of southern Taiwan: A long-term study. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 64(6), 1129–1135. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2012.03.031

[9] Chiau, W.-Y. (2005). Changes in the marine pollution management system in response to the Amorgos oil spill in Taiwan. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 51(8), 1041–1047. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2005.02.048

[10] Chen, C.-C., Tew, K. S., Ho, P.-H., Ko, F.-C., Hsieh, H.-Y., & Meng, P.-J. (2017). The impact of two oil spill events on the water quality along coastal area of Kenting National Park, southern Taiwan. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 124(2), 974–983. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.02.034

[11] Chen, C.-C., Tew, K. S., Ho, P.-H., Ko, F.-C., Hsieh, H.-Y., & Meng, P.-J. (2017). The impact of two oil spill events on the water quality along coastal area of Kenting National Park, southern Taiwan. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 124(2), 974–983. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.02.034

[12] Kuo, C., Meng, P.-J., Ho, P.-H., Wang, J.-T., Chen, J.-P., Chiu, Y.-W., … Allen Chen, C. (2011). Damage to the Reefs of Siangjiao Bay Marine Protected Area of Kenting National Park, Southern Taiwan during Typhoon Morakot. Zoological Studies (Vol. 50).

[13] Dimmock, K., & Musa, G. (2015). Scuba Diving Tourism System: A framework for collaborative management and sustainability. Marine Policy, 54, 52–58. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2014.12.008