Orchid Island (Yami language: Ponso no Tao or Pongso no Tao; Chinese: 蘭嶼; pinyin: Lán Yǔ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Lân-sū) is a 45 km² volcanic island off the southeastern coast of Taiwan Island and separated from the Batanes of the Philippines by the Bashi Channel of the Luzon Strait. It is governed as Lanyu Township of Taitung County.
The island is home to the Tao, an ethnic minority group who migrated to the island from the Batan Archipelago 800 years ago. The island is known to them as Ponso no Tao or Pongso no Tawo (island of the people) or Irala. Out of a total current population of 4,000, approximately 2,400 belong to the aboriginal Tao community and the remaining 1,600 are mainly Han Chinese. In neighboring Philippines the island is referred to as Botel Tobago.
The Lanyu nuclear waste storage facility was built in 1982. The plant receives nuclear waste from Taiwan's three nuclear power plants operated by state utility Taiwan Power Company (Taipower). About 100,000 barrels of nuclear waste from the nation’s three operational nuclear power plants have been stored at the Lanyu complex. In 2002 and 2012, there were major protests from local residents, calling on Taipower to remove the nuclear waste from the island.
The island was first mapped on Japanese charts as Tabako-shima in the early 17th century and Tabaco Xima on a French map of 1654. The Chinese who had no contact with the inhabitants of the island, called it Âng-thâu-sū (紅頭嶼, pinyin: Hongtouyu; "Red-headed island"), from which it was called Kōtō-sho during Japanese rule of Taiwan. The Japanese government declared the island an ethnological research area off-limits to the public. This restriction remained in effect when the Republic of China took over in 1945, but was lifted in 1967. It was because of the restriction that the Tao have the best preserved traditions among the Taiwanese aborigines. Since then, schools were built on the island and education in Mandarin became compulsory. Tourism to the island has also increased. The island is known by the Ami as Buturu and by the Puyuma as Botol.
On January 19, 1946, the island was designated as Hongtouyu Township (紅頭嶼鄉 "Red-headed Island") of Taitung County. November 24 of that year, it was renamed to Lan Yu, or Orchid Island, after the local Phalaenopsis orchids.
The island is accessible by sea or air. Daily Air is the only airline to offer flights from Taiwan Island to Orchid Island through its Lanyu Airport. The flight duration is half an hour and the daily frequency is dependent on weather conditions. Ferry trips to the island are available from Taitung's Fukang harbor.
There are eight mountains over 400 m high, the tallest mountain is Mt. Hongtoushan (紅頭山) at 552 m. The rock on the island is volcanic tholeiite andesite, and volcanic explosive fragments. The volcano erupted in Miocene to Miocene period. It is part of the Luzon Volcanic Arc. Magma was formed from underthrusting oceanic crust under compression about 20 km deep. The andesite rock contains some visible crystals of pyroxene or amphibole. The geochemistry of the rock shows it is enriched in sodium, magnesium and nickel, but depleted in iron aluminium, potassium titanium and strontium.
Flora and fauna
Orchid Island hosts many tropical plants species, sharing many species with tropical Asia but also many endemics: there are 35 plant species found nowhere else. For example, Pinanga tashiroi is a species of palm tree found nowhere else than Orchid Island.
The islanders are farmers and fisherman relying on a large annual catch of flying fish and on wet taro, yams, and millet. They are the Tao people.
Nuclear waste controversy
The Lanyu nuclear waste storage facility was built at the southern tip of Orchid Island (Lanyu) in 1982. The plant receives nuclear waste from Taiwan's three nuclear power plants operated by state utility Taiwan Power Company (Taipower). Islanders did not have a say in the decision to locate the facility on the island.
In 2002, almost 2,000 protesters, including many Aboriginal residents of Taiwan's Orchid Island and elementary and high school students staged a sit-in in front of the storage plant, calling on Taipower to remove nuclear waste from the island. They were also protesting against the government's failure to keep its pledge to withdraw 100,000 barrels of low-level nuclear waste from their isle by the end of 2002. In a bid to allay safety concerns, Taipower has pledged to repackage the waste since many of the iron barrels used for storage have become rusty from the island's salty and humid air. Taipower has for years been exploring ways to ship the nuclear waste overseas for final storage, but plans to store the waste in an abandoned North Korean coal mine have met with strong protests from neighboring South Korea and Japan due to safety and environmental concerns, while storage in Russia or China is complicated by political factors. Taipower is "trying to convince the islanders to extend the storage arrangement for another nine years in exchange for payment of NT$200 million (about $5.7 million)".
Following years of protests by Lanyu residents, more concerns arose about the facility, after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. About 100,000 barrels of nuclear waste from the nation’s three operational nuclear power plants have been stored at the Lanyu complex. A report released in November 2011 said a radioactive leak had been detected outside the facility and this has added to residents’ concerns. In February 2012, hundreds of Tao Aborigines living on Lanyu held a protest outside the Lanyu nuclear waste storage facility, calling on Taiwan Power Co. to remove nuclear waste from the island as soon as possible. Chang Hai-yu, a preacher at a local church, said "it was a tragedy that Tao children are being born into a radiation-filled environment". Lanyu Township Mayor Chiang To-li "urged Taipower to remove nuclear waste from the island as soon as possible".
In March 2012, about 2,000 people staged an anti-nuclear protest in Taiwan's capital following the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan one year ago. Scores of aboriginal protesters "demanded the removal of 100,000 barrels of nuclear waste stored on Orchid Island, off south-eastern Taiwan. Authorities have failed to find a substitute storage site amid increased awareness of nuclear danger over the past decade".
The village communities (社) are: (The asterisks indicate the four current administrative villages (村)
|Ivarinu||Yeyin (野銀)||not an administrative village|
|Imourud||Hongtou (紅頭)||* Redhead Village, township seat|
|Iratai||Yuren (漁人)||Incorporated into Imourud Village in 1946|
|Iwatas||Yiwadasi (伊瓦達斯)||Incorporated into Yayu in 1940|
Lesser Orchid Island (Wade-Giles: Hsiao Lan Yü; Pinyin: Xiao Lanyu; Little Botel-Tobago), an uninhabited volcanic islet near the main Orchid Island, is the southernmost point of Taitung County. It has been the target of military airplane's target practice. It is home to a critically endangered endemic orchid, Phalaenopsis equestris f. aurea.
- List of volcanoes in Taiwan
- Green Island - the other offshore township of Taitung County
- List of islands of the Republic of China
- Tao people
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