1992 / 10月
台灣雖然是蕞爾小鳥，但水生植物卻多達五十餘科二百多種，目前有幾十多種面臨絕滅的危機。以台灣原產的五種睡蓮科植物為例，其中芡（Euryale ferox）、午子蓮（Nymphaea tetragona）、紅花睡蓮（Nym-phaea lotus var. pubescens）早已絕種，而蓴菜（Brasenia schreberi）亦已瀕臨滅種，只有台灣萍蓬草（Nuphar shimadai）在桃園的一些老池塘裡一息尚存。
Hsu Jen-hsiu /photos courtesy of Hsu Jen-hsiu /tr. by Jonathan Barnard
Amid the sound of bulldozers, I have made my last pilgrimage to this beautiful wild pond. Why is it that we wait until times like these to treasure what we should have treasured all along?
In the hills of Longtan, there is a small pond hidden among the bamboo wind breaks in lush surroundings, where the trees on the banks stretch their green tentacles out above the water. The secluded pond is as flat as a mirror, and only rarely does a gust of cool wind passing through the woods wrinkle the white clouds and blue sky of the northern Taiwan summer day reflected on its surface. Soon the ripples subside, and it once again reflects the clear Formosan sky.
In a single pool, the life is boundless: At the edge of the pond, near the grass on the banks, grow a cluster of plants floating on the water like water lilies--Nuphar shimadai, whose flowers are golden yellow. Bursting forth from the green leaves, the beautiful flowers make the pool seem as if it is the abode of some nymph, far away from the world of men.
In this clear water, paradise fish surface from among the reeds, using bubbles to make their nests. The resplendent color of their scales and beautiful long fins can entrance even the least aesthetically minded.
Some yellow and black dragonflies chase each other along the green banks. Several tiny demoiselles rest and alight among the yellow flowers of Nuphar shimadai. Occasionally, a beautiful and brightly colored Precis lightly skims over the water's surface across to the opposite bank. These little creatures make this small pond a site of great life and activity.
In the cool shade of the bank, I sit intoxicated with the beauty of the scenery and am greatly moved by these species unique to Taiwan. In this small pool, I get a glimpse of the original face of Formosa--"the beautiful isle."
But Yen Sheng-hong, a 19-year-old sophomore studying entomology at Chunghsin University, can see deeper levels of significance.
Combing the island: Out on a hike eight years ago a child of eleven, he became entranced with the wonder of water plants and began researching the varieties on Taiwan.
Year after year, when not in school, he went all over the island to find marshes and swamps where he could collect and observe. He went on numerous treks in the wild with Dr. Yang Yuan-po, a water plant specialist, and his parents bought him reference books and gave him subscriptions to various foreign plant magazines. Now, he is one of only a few who understand much about Taiwan's marshes and swamps.
By the side of this small and beautiful pool, he introduced me to many plants unique to Taiwan as well as some exotically named species from abroad--even plants from remote wild regions, such as the Blyxa japonica, Rotala indica, Myriophyllum ussuriense. . . .
These plants are all interesting in their own ways. Usually found in the temperate zone, most of them were brought from abroad by migratory birds like the quillwort and the Sparganium fallax.
Their taking root in the subtropical environment of Taiwan has greatly startled international botanists. Among them are plants found at their southern most geographical limit:
The Nuphar shimadai is especially noteworthy because it belongs to temperate zone family of water plants found mostly in North America and the northern parts of the Eurasian land mass. Taiwan's variety, Nuphar shimadai, represents the southern limit of the family's range, a keepsake the island took from the glacial epoch. What makes it remarkable is that very few areas of the world have unique species of water plants. As a species unique to the island, Nuphar shimadai has attracted the attention of international scholars.
Where are all the adults? Just as I was becoming intoxicated with the pride I felt for the glory of Formosa, loud noises jarred me from my state of enrapture. The noises came from behind the wind breaks on the opposite bank. Yen told me that the bulldozers were hurrying to finish work on a major construction project.
With helpless resignation, he said, "This pond is near its end. In a few days the bulldozers will fill in the pond, and the beauty of all of these plants will be no more.
The pond's tragic fate touched me deeply, bringing tears to my eyes. There are so many beautiful spots on this island that we destroy before we have a chance to discover them. For even so large a construction project, no investigation was made to determine how much special scenery would be destroyed or how many unique plant species would be uprooted.
I remember several years ago, when France was building a famous high-speed railway line, biologists discovered that one stretch of the line would obstruct a unique species of frog from returning to swamps where it mated and propagated. Eventually, for the sake of this group of frogs, the track was elevated at an expense of tens of millions of francs.
Such a concern for nature truly displays a nation's culture and civilization.
At the edge of the construction, Yen was constantly rescuing precious species of water plants about to be buried. As I saw him grabbing, pulling and taking photographs in the already half-buried wetlands, I couldn't help but be moved. Why was it that a kid like this was willing to fight a struggle he knew he would lose? Where were his elders?
Beautiful ponds--bulldozed and awaiting sale: Anticipated prosperity has wreaked even more destruction than actual construction projects. Looking forward to sales, citizens of the villages and townships along the edge of this construction project have drained or filled wetlands and ponds that had existed there for centuries. Even beautiful ponds like the one I have described cannot get listed as protected areas.
In a pond which is almost dry in the vicinity of Yangmei, I photographed the well-known Philydrum lanuginosum, Rotala hippuris, Limnophila trichophylla Kamarou, Microcaipaea minima, and a plant which I playfully called "Yen water basil." One can see how abundant the water plants in this pond are.
Looking day by day at the ever-dryer pond and the ever-closer factories, I knew that the pond's days were numbered--just like the 15 ponds within a square kilometer which had already been filled in.
While Taiwan is a small island, there are some 50 families and over 200 species of water plants. Currently, more than 80 species are endangered. To take the five native species of water lily as an example, Euryale ferox, Nymphaea tetragona, and Nymphaea lotus var. phbescens have long been extinct, and Brasenia schreberi is also endangered. Only Nuphar shimadai is still hanging on in a few old ponds in Taoyuan.
As for the hard-to-find drosera indica, in the few inches of wetlands still remaining at the edge of the construction, Yen found only a few dry "corpses."
Bone dry: Although the ecology of wetlands and ponds is more fragile than the forest ecology to begin with, it is also easier to protect. It's just that it is usually overlooked or even regarded as unimportant.
The Nanjen Mountain swamps and wetlands of Kenting National Park were originally a large expanse of beautiful wetlands where various water plants grew in abundance. In the past, Yen could find some new species brought to Taiwan by Anatidae ducks virtually every year. But ever since work began on a nearby major construction project, wetlands have been lost as countless water plants have disappeared into the mouths of the grass carp and the number of migratory birds have gradually declined as well. And this tale of demise took place in the only wetlands found in a protected area.
At this moment, amid the sound of bulldozers, I am making my last pilgrimage to this pond in the wild. Looking at the soon-to-be-destroyed pool and the colorful abundance of life in and around it, I can't help but ask, "When will we treasure what we have? When will humanity learn to respect nature and life? When our environment becomes an ugly abomination, when our water is clear no longer, our sky never blue again, when our air is permeated with smog and our ears are ringing from the ever-present clamor, how will we go about defining civilization?"
For irrigation, the Hakka pioneers in the Taoyuan Tableland dug numerous ponds, which have not only provided water for the fields and beautiful scenery but have also served as islands of paradise for numerous species of water plants.
Gallinula chloropus is one of the lords of this pond.
In a pond that will soon be filled, more than 100 species of water plants--many quite rare--struggle for survival.
The piscator is a species of water snake.
The species Phylidrum lanuginosum is the only member of its class.
This is a plant discovered by Japanese scholars, but Yen Sheng-hong realized that it was misidentified as another plant. It needs a new name.
The call of the little Hyla arborea rings through the wetlands.
In this corner of a pond that has already been filled, Yen discovered several rare plants barely hanging on.