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Local passion for heritage helps preserve iconic tidal traps in Penghu, Taiwan

50 km off the west coast of Taiwan proper in Penghu County, a heritage renaissance led by residents in tandem with central and local governments is underway

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Twin Hearts Stone Weir on Qimei Island (Courtesy of Penghu County Government)

Twin Hearts Stone Weir on Qimei Island (Courtesy of Penghu County Government)

TAIPEI (Taiwan Today) -- Around 50 kilometers off the west coast of Taiwan proper in Penghu County, a heritage renaissance led by residents in tandem with central and local governments is underway. Retired high school teacher Lin Wen-zhen, born and bred in the archipelago of 90 islets, is a passionate member of the movement dedicated to conserving the county’s many distinctive tangible and intangible cultural assets.

One project the 73-year-old Lin is particularly proud of during his 20 years on the front line of cultural preservation efforts involves rebuilding Penghu’s iconic stone fish weirs and promoting related construction techniques. “These structures carry profound cultural implications and illustrate the close relationship between residents of yesteryear and Mother Nature,” he said

Local passion for heritage helps preserve iconic tidal traps in Penghu, Taiwan
Residents play a vital role in preserving the weir for future generations. (Courtesy of PCG)

Spread over 127 square kilometers in the middle of the Taiwan Strait, Penghu—also known as the Pescadores, or fishermen, in Portuguese—is renowned for its waters teeming with all manner of marine life. Once sparsely populated by itinerant fishermen and an eclectic assortment of adventurers and vagabonds, the islands saw the rise of more permanent communities in the early 17th century following large-scale migration from present-day China.

Given the difficulty in growing crops on the windswept islands, the new arrivals turned to the sea for sustenance. They set about building the ingenious weirs in the shallows from Penghu’s abundance of basalt and coral.

At high tide, fish would swim into the pondlike structures only to be trapped as the tide raced out. Nearly 600 of the weirs remain today, with the oldest believed to date back more than 300 years.

Measures to safeguard the structures have been implemented at central and local government levels for more than a decade.

The Ministry of Culture identified Twin Hearts Stone Weir on Qimei Island and Jibei Stone Weir Group on Jibei Island as potential Taiwan additions to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2009. Two years earlier, Penghu County Government designated them cultural landscapes in a bid to preserve local fishery culture and history.

In 2004, the MOC funded the establishment of the Jibei Stone Weirs Cultural Museum on Jibei Island. Visitors can learn about how fish were harvested in the tidal traps at the museum through exhibits of old fishing tools, photos and videos.

Local passion for heritage helps preserve iconic tidal traps in Penghu, Taiwan
Visitors listen to a talk on the stone tidal traps organized by the Penghu National Scenic Area Administration at the Jibei Stone Weirs Cultural Museum this summer. (Courtesy of PNSAA)

In addition to the displays, facility operator Penghu National Scenic Area Administration also organizes special educational activities to bring the past to life and encourage tourists to spend longer experiencing the area’s attractions. From May to September this year, more than 260 people from five countries signed up to a program led by local cultural historians where they learned about the traditional fishing practice and gained a deeper understanding of these remarkable structures through field trips.

In training the spotlight on the weirs and Penghu’s other natural attractions, the local government hopes to attract more visitors from home and abroad and give residents such as Lin the opportunity to contribute to cultivating the county’s appeal as a slow-travel destination.

Local passion for heritage helps preserve iconic tidal traps in Penghu, Taiwan
Families attending the administration’s educational program clamber over a stone fishing weir on Jibei Island. (Courtesy of PNSAA)


Updated : 2021-05-09 14:06 GMT+08:00