Orchid Island

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Coordinates: 22°03′N 121°32′E / 22.050°N 121.533°E / 22.050; 121.533

Orchid Island is located in Taiwan
Orchid Island
Orchid Island
Orchid Island in Taiwan
Old photo of the shore of Orchid Island, near Taiwan published in a Japanese government publication, ca. 1931.

Orchid Island (Yami: Ponso no Tao; Chinese: 蘭嶼; pinyin: Lán Yǔ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Lân-sū or Âng-thâu-sū) is a 45 km² high 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, Taiwan.

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 "Island of the people" or Irala. Out of a total current population of 5036, approximately 4200 belong to the aboriginal Tao community and the remaining 800 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 without prior consultation with the island's Tao natives.[1] 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.[2] In 2002 and 2012, there were major protests from local residents, calling on Taipower to remove the nuclear waste from the island.[3]


"Botel Tobago Insel" on a German map in the early 20th century.[4]

Early history[edit]

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 Ang-thau-su (Chinese: 紅頭嶼; pinyin: Hóngtóuyǔ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Âng-thâu-sū; literally: "Red-headed island"), from which it was called Kōtō-sho (紅頭嶼) during Japanese rule. The Japanese government declared the island an ethnological research area off-limits to the public.

Republic of China[edit]

This restriction remained in effect when the Republic of China took over Taiwan 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.[citation needed] Since then, schools were built on the island and education in Standard Chinese became compulsory. Tourism to the island has also increased. The island is known by the Amis people as Buturu and by the Puyuma as Botol.

On January 19, 1946, the island was designated as Hongtouyu Township (Chinese: 紅頭嶼鄉) of Taitung County. November 24 of that year, it was renamed Orchid Island (Lanyu), after the local Phalaenopsis orchids.


Lesser Orchid Island

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 the 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.[5]

As the island is within the tropics, the island experiences a warm and rainy tropical climate throughout the year with humidity often reaching more than 90%. Rainfall, abundant throughout the year, cools the temperature significantly. The climate is classified as a monsoon-influenced Koppen's tropical rainforest climate (Af), with annual temperatures averaging around 23 °C on the mountain and 26 °C on the coasts, one of the highest in Taiwan.

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 airplanes' target practice. It is home to a critically endangered endemic[citation needed] orchid, Phalaenopsis equestris f. aurea.

Climate data for Lanyu Weather Station - 324m above sea level (1981–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 20.7
Daily mean °C (°F) 18.5
Average low °C (°F) 17.0
Average rainfall mm (inches) 248.1
Average rainy days (≥ 0.1 mm) 22.2 19.0 16.7 15.1 15.7 15.3 14.2 16.6 19.5 19.6 20.5 21.0 215.4
Average relative humidity (%) 86.3 88.3 88.6 90.2 90.3 92.1 91.0 90.8 90.3 87.3 86.6 84.9 88.9
Mean monthly sunshine hours 80.8 78.8 106.0 113.0 136.5 140.8 196.2 171.6 143.7 134.1 94.7 77.6 1,473.8
Source: [6]

Administrative divisions[edit]

Village in Lanyu Island

There are seven settlements (社) in Lanyu Township, which are: (The asterisks indicate the four current administrative villages (村)

Yami name Chinese Note
Jiayo Yeyou (椰油) *
Jiraralay Langdao (朗島) *
Jiranmilek Dongqing (東清) *
Jivalino Yeyin (野銀)
Jimowrod Hongtou (紅頭) * township seat
Jiratay Yuren (漁人) Incorporated into Hongtou Village in 1946
Iwatas Yiwadasi (伊瓦達斯) Incorporated into Yeyou Village in 1940

Flora and fauna[edit]

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.[7] For example, Pinanga tashiroi is a species of palm tree found nowhere else than Orchid Island.[8]

Green sea turtles make nests on the island,[9] which is surrounded by coral reefs.[10] Four species of sea snakes inhabit the waters round the island.[11] Humpback whales were historically common in the area,[12] and there were continuous sightings of them in the 2000s,[13] which marked the first return of the species into Taiwanese waters since the cessation of whaling.[14] Sightings are reported almost every year, although the whales do not stay for long, as they once did. They appear instead to be migratory visitors.[15]


The islanders are mostly farmers and fishermen relying on a large annual catch of flying fish and on wet taro, yams, and millet. They are the Tao people.

On 19 September 2014, the first 7-Eleven store in the island was opened. During the opening ceremony, the township chief said that the store could provide conveniences to the local residents such as fee and tax collection.[16]


Nuclear waste[edit]

The Lanyu nuclear waste storage facility was built at the southern tip of Orchid Island 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.[2]

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.[2][17] Aboriginal politicians successfully obstructed legislative proceedings that year to show support for the protests.[18] 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)".[2]

Following years of protests by Lanyu residents, more concerns arose about the facility, after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. 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.[3] 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".[3]

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".[19][20]

Power generation[edit]

The island houses its only power generation facility, the fuel-fired Lanyu Power Plant. Commissioned in 1982, the plant has a total installed capacity of 6.5 MW and is owned and operated by Taipower. Stipulated under Article 14 of the Offshore Islands Development Act, households on the island enjoy free electricity. The situation on the island resulted from the preferential policy given to the island residents due to the construction of the Lanyu storage site on the island in 1982.[21]

Due to the free electricity, electricity consumption on the island is generally much higher than in other parts of Taiwan. In 2011, the average annual electricity consumption per household in Lanyu was 6,522 kWh, almost twice the 3,654 kWh Taiwan average. In 2002, Taipower provided an equivalent of NT$6.35 million worth of electricity to the island, and in 2011 the amount rose to NT$24.39 million. Due to this suspected abuse, members of Control Yuan called for an investigation into the electricity subsidy to Lanyu Island in 2012.[22]

Tourist attractions[edit]


The island is accessible by sea or air. Daily Air is the only airline to offer flights from Taiwan Island through Taitung Airport in Taitung City 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 City's Fugang Fishery Harbor year round, while in the summer, there is a ferry from Houbihu port in Kenting.

Notable people[edit]

Syaman Rapongan (aka Nu-Lai Shih) is a award winning author and member of the Tao (formerly Yami) tribe of Orchid Island (aka "Pongso no Tao" in Tao language and "Lanyu" in Chinese)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Han Cheung (19 February 2017). "Taiwan in Time: Chasing away 'evil spirits'". Taipei Times. Retrieved 18 February 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d "Orchid Island launches new protests against nuclear waste". Asian Economic News. May 6, 2002.
  3. ^ a b c Loa Iok-sin (21 February 2012). "Tao protest against nuclear facility". Taipei Times.
  4. ^ Karl Theodor Stöpel (1905). Eine Reise in das Innere der Insel Formosa.
  5. ^ Zhang Jinhai and He Lishi (2002). "Geology of Taiwan Province". Geology of China. Geological Publishing House. ISBN 7-116-02268-6.
  6. ^ "Statistics > Monthly Mean". Central Weather Bureau.
  7. ^ Hsieh, Chang-Fu (2002). "Composition, endemism and phytogeographical affinities of the Taiwan flora". Taiwania. 47: 298–310.
  8. ^ Liao, Jih-Ching (2000). "Palmae (Arecaceae)". In Huang, Tseng-chieng. Flora of Taiwan. 5 (2nd ed.). Taipei, Taiwan: Editorial Committee of the Flora of Taiwan, Second Edition. pp. 655–662. ISBN 957-9019-52-5. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
  9. ^ Cheng, I-Jiunn; Cheng-Ting Huang; Po-Yen Hung; Bo-Zong Ke; Chao-Wei Kuo; Chia-Ling Fong (2009). "Ten years of monitoring the nesting ecology of the green turtle, Chelonia mydas, on Lanyu (Orchid I.), Taiwan" (PDF). Zoological Studies. 48 (1): 83–94.
  10. ^ Dai, C.-F. (1991). "Reef environment and coral fauna of southern Taiwan" (PDF). Atoll Research Bulletin. 354: 1–24. doi:10.5479/si.00775630.354.1.
  11. ^ Tu, M. C.; M. C. Tu, S. C. Fong and K. Y. Lue (1990). "Reproductive biology of the sea snake, Laticauda semifasciata, in Taiwan". Journal of Herpetology. 24 (2): 119–126. doi:10.2307/1564218. JSTOR 1564218.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-11. Retrieved 2016-03-02.
  13. ^ (utmost), utmost. "2011 鯨年要做的事 @ ARKILA :: 痞客邦 PIXNET ::".
  14. ^ "尋鯨記".
  15. ^ 滔滔 - Ocean says, 2015, 追逐鯨魚的人:專訪台灣第一位水下鯨豚攝影師金磊
  16. ^ "7-Eleven opens on Orchid Island - Taipei Times". www.taipeitimes.com.
  17. ^ Hsu, Crystal (10 April 2002). "Yu apologizes for island's nuclear woes". Taipei Times. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  18. ^ Hsu, Crystal (4 May 2002). "Aborigine lawmakers make good on threat". Taipei Times. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  19. ^ "About 2,000 Taiwanese stage anti-nuclear protest". Straits Times. 11 March 2011.
  20. ^ "Taiwan - Standing on Shaky Ground". 9 April 2013 – via www.abc.net.au.
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-10-13. Retrieved 2014-10-08.
  22. ^ "The China Post". The China Post.

Further reading[edit]

  • Martinson, Barry (2016), Song of Orchid Island (2nd ed.), Camphor Press
  • Ba-dai-wan de Shen-hua 《八代灣的神話》 (Myths from Ba-dai Bay). Taipei: Morning Star Publishing Co., 1992.—Syaman Rapongan’s first book; a collection of myths and his personal reflections on contemporary Tao; divided into two parts, with the first on myths, and the second on personal reflections.
  • Leng Hai Qing Shen—Hai-yang Chao-sheng Zhe 《冷海情深—海洋朝聖者》(Deep Love for Cold Sea: The Oceanic Pilgrim). Taipei: Unitas Publishing Co., Ltd., 1997.—A collection of short stories about Syaman Rapongan’s life on Lan-yu; the book marks the writer’s constant struggles with himself and his family because he voluntarily went unemployed and devoted himself solely to the ocean as a bare-hand diver in order to explore Tao civilization and find the meaning of life. The book also marks the writer’s initial identity transition from a Sinicized man to a real Tao who embraces the value of physical labor and learns to cultivate the art of story-telling. The book was the Annual Reading for 1997 by United Daily News.
  • Hei-se de Chi-bang 《黑色的翅膀》 (Black Wings). Taipei: Morning Star Publishing Co., 1999.—Syaman Rapongan’s first novel; it questions the future of Tao people through the characterization of four young men (Kaswal, Gigimit, Jyavehai and Ngalolog) Should they run rigorously after the tempting ‘white body’ on the land or wait patiently for the arrival of ‘black wings’ on the sea? Although this appears a rhetorical question, Syaman Rapongan reveals that the conflicts are severe and their impact profound. This novel won Wu Zhuo-liou Literary Award in 1999.
  • Hai-lang de Ji-yi 《海浪的記憶》 (Memory of the Ocean Waves). Taipei: Unitas Publishing Co., Ltd., 2002.—Another collection of short stories; divided into two parts, with the first on the countless ties between Tao and the sea (six stories), and the second on Tao’s staunch fights against foreign influences. Experimenting boldly with different genre and languages, the writer combines verses with prose and juxtaposes Tao and Chinese languages. As another Taiwanese writer and critic, Song Ze-lai, points out, Syaman Rapongan deliberately defamiliarizes his language and syntax in order to praise traditional Tao values and to guide his readers, especially Tao, back to the original way of living, far from influences of Chinese culture and modern civilization.
  • Hang-hai-jia de Lian 《航海家的臉》 (The Face of a Navigator). Taipei: INK Literary Publishing Co., 2007.—Also a collection of articles; it continues the oceanic theme but exposes more of Syaman Rapongan’s personal battles with modernity or traditionality and his pursuit of prosperity or return to innocence. Calling him-self a nomadic soul, Syaman Rapongan knows there may be no end to his battle. His course is a romantic one, without any definite plan. Nor will his beloved sea offer any answer or guidance. Nevertheless, consolation can be found in sweet solitude and family understanding. Syaman Rapongan’s first attempt at trans-Pacific navigation with a Japanese captain and five Indonesian crew members is also included here.
  • Lao Hai-ren 《老海人》 (Old Ama Divers). Taipei: INK Literary Publishing Co., Ltd., 2009.—Syaman Rapongan’s second novel; highly praised and awarded (The Wu Lu-chin Prize for Essays, Chiu Ko Publishing Co. Annual Selection in 2006). Instead of following the previous semi-biographical direction, Syaman Rapongan focuses on three outcasts on his island, Ngalomirem, Tagangan and Zomagpit, whose pretty names fail to bring them pretty lives. Ngalomiren is regarded as a psychopath, Tagangan a miserable student though a brilliant octopus-catcher, and Zomagpit a hopeless drunkard. Through these figures, Syaman Rapongan portrays how Tao society stumbles between traditionality and modernity, and how broken the society has become in both material and mental terms as its humble and simple way becomes recognized again. In spite of a slight hope for reconciliation, this way back to the humble and simple Tao world is arduous, sometimes painful, and fully filled with regrets.

External links[edit]