On the east coast of Taiwan, the shoreline at Xinshe in Hualien has receded by over 100 meters in the last 20 years. But the old idea of overcoming the elements with concrete wave breakers and sea walls has only destroyed many stretches of the natural coastline, and made things worse. In our continuing series of features, on shoring up Taiwan's shoreline, we go to rapidly disappearing Xinshe, to find out more.
Green "beach" drops into sea
A field beside the Pacific Ocean forms a green beach. But scenes like this, could soon be a thing of the past.
Xinshe resident, Zhang Qiulin
"This is all subsiding, it's sinking all the time. Before, the seawater didn't flood up to here. It only came up to there. Now waves crash over all the time. If a typhoon comes, they come up to here."
Pointing 100-200m out to sea, Zhang Qiulin, who has lived in Xinshe on Taiwan's east coast for 60 years, says all this used to be sandy beach.
Xinshe resident, Zhang Qiulin
"It collapses all the time. When a typhoon comes, or when it rains heavily, the fields collapse. But what can you do?"
Vanishing traditional Kavalan land
Hundreds of tons of soil has disappeared into the sea without trace. According to land administration data, the coastline which is the traditionally home of Taiwan's Kavalan indigenous peoples, has receded by over 100m in the last 20 years.
WRA 9th River Bureau director, Chen Zhonglong??
"Because the land that residents live on is not worth that much, so along this stretch, even though it's collapsing very seriously, we only concentrate on some key places: tribal villages and communities, where people live and have property, to make sea defenses. We try to keep the shore in a natural state, and try not to increase man-made structures."
Green line beats grey line
The threatened Xinshe community is by no means an exception. All along Taiwan's east coast, the thin grey lines of seawalls, gabions and wave breakers offer little resistance to the relentless pummeling of the waves.
Academia Sinica Biodiversity Center researcher, Zheng Mingxiu
"In fact these concrete coverings have never worked. The best shoreline is the original beach, and the plants on the beach are even more important."
Holistic solution to coastal erosion
Yet along the dramatic east coast of Taiwan, beaches and greenery are a rare sight. Because the coast does not get much sunlight, it is not easy to replant areas that have been stripped bare. Even coconut trees have lost their footing.
NTNU Dept. of Geography, Pro. Lin Xuemei
"The coast is not a single line, and not an isolated unit, or a small area. It is a zone - a costal zone. So the state of the beach today is affected by moving sand, which affects the sand dunes. Any changes to the sand dunes affect the wind breaking trees. So clearly, the influence of the coast is not - like everyone thinks - limited to that place. It is a very serious and very large area."
"Man overcomes nature?"
This stone monument to Taiwan's east coast highway says: "man overcomes nature". Looking at the battered road today, the monument seems like a memorial to time gone by, when people thought they could hold back the sea with man-made structures and concrete wave barriers.