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Green Island

photo by pawl english
Diving in Green Island

Green Island is situated 33K off the east coast of Taiwan and access is by ferry from Taitung [45mins] or by plane from either Taipei [25 mins] or Taitung [12 mins]. Unfortunately, there are no flights from elsewhere around the island. Formerly known as Fire Burnt Island or Burnt Fire Island the name was changed to the pleasant sounding Green Island in 1949. The resident population is quite small but the island is flooded with visitors during the holiday seasons so accommodation is often in demand and needs to be booked well in advance of any holiday.

Green Island was once a notorious prison island for political prisoners of the KMT, consequently much of the island’s offshore reefs were in a restricted security zone. This allowed the marine life to proliferate and effectively formed a marine sanctuary along the north side of the island. Unfortunately this all ended when they closed the prison in the 90’s. A free for all on marine life ensued, with fisherman, aquarists and scuba diving spear fishermen from all over Taiwan visiting to collect and kill the marine life. If I were to compare the marine life today to what it was when I first dived there in 1990, Green Island is now a shadow of its former self, with whole areas around the island decimated of marine life. Fortunately, the locals have now realized this and recently enacted laws to prevent the worst abuses, cyanide, dynamite and electric fishing. However a whole lot more should be done. In my opinion a Marine Park Reserve ought to be established, permanent anchors set up for dive boats, spear fishing and collecting for aquariums banned and certain areas made entirely off limits to all fishermen.

Green Island has well-developed fringing coral reefs and diverse marine life. There are over 600 species of fish, 150 species of reef building corals and 50 species of soft corals. Green Island, like Orchid Island is also home to the endangered Coconut crab (Birgus latro). Unfortunately, well over 300,000 seafood-consuming visitors per year have taken a severe toll on the environment. Green Island is home to the world’s largest coral, it is a 16m high by 31m wide coral bummie shaped like a large bell. It sits in Nan Liao Bay and is easily accessible as a shore dive. Unfortunately, it is showing signs of wear from careless divers touching it. It is estimated to be 1,200 years old.

The main attraction for divers, apart from the beautiful corals and unique UW topography, is Shark Point or Gun Swei Bi. This dive site is at the south east corner of the island, directly opposite the salt water sulphur hot springs (one of only three in the world). Here during the winter months from December to early March schooling hammerheads abound! The hammerheads are most likely either Smooth Hammerheads (Sphyrna zygaena) or Scalloped Hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini). This dive is not for the novice diver or the faint of heart. If safety conscious, most local dive shops will not take divers who have less then 100 dives under their belts. It is an Advanced dive plus! The site has powerful currents both topside and below and the sea state on the surface can be turbulent with large swells 4m to 5m high. Last year I was actually looking down on the dive boat from the top of a wave! That said it is an adrenaline charged dive, well worth the expense and effort of getting there. The hammers hang out at about 25m to 35m; divers latch onto a rock with a reef hook and watch the show. If you are lucky upwards of 80-100 hammerheads may parade past above or below and at the same level just a few meters away! The sharks are large 2 to 3 m in length and powerfully built. They look like the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the ocean! To avoid disappointment divers planning to go to Green Island to see the sharks should allow for at least 2 or 3 days of diving, as the captains will not go if the weather or currents are too bad. I believe the optimum time to go to see the sharks is from early February to the first week in March.

There are about 30 dive sites scattered around the coast, most are seasonal i.e. some are autumn/winter sites and the others spring/summer. There are a couple of decent wreck dives. The north side of the island has the best overall marine life and is best dived from late May to September, weather permitting.

I organize fun diving and Advanced Open Water certification trips to Green Island throughout the year as well as the dives to see the hammerheads in winter. If you are interested and possess the appropriate skill level (to dive on the hammerheads) please contact me well in advance and I will send you further information. Divers should have decent airtime, be comfortable in a current, and know how to accomplish negatively buoyant entries as well as how to deploy an SMB from 10m. I would also advise divers to have their own gear. The quality of the rental gear available is average at best.

Links:
Project Aware
More articles related to Taiwan’s marine ecology can be found here: www.reefbase.org
Tide tables for Taiwan can be found here. Also, see the navy charts for the Kenting Marine Park area, depths are in meters.

 
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