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June 24, 2017

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Green Island bans harvest of young giant clams

TAIPEI -- Taitung County has banned the harvesting of giant clams measuring 15 centimeters and smaller in the waters off Green Island and listed the mollusk as a protected species.

The ban also prohibits harvesting giant clams of any size from the areas around Caikou, Shilang and Guiwan in the island township, one of Taiwan's most popular destinations for leisure diving activities.

Violators will face a fine ranging from NT$30,000 (US$993) to NT$150,000.

Giant clams, dubbed "the beautiful flowers of the sea" by locals for their colorful outer mantles, are the world's largest bivalve mollusk. Their characteristic vivid colors come from the symbiotic algae that grow on their tissue.

The largest ever found in the corals around Green Island measured 150 centimeters in length. But local fishermen and diving instructors have noticed a sharp decline in the number of large giant clams.

One local diver recalled that there were visible signs of giant clams as big as 30-cm long in shallow waters as recently as three or four years ago. Now, he says, he has to dive 20 meters down to find any bigger than 15 cm.

"The only ones left are 'children' less than 15-cm long," the diver said, lamenting the fact that government did not impose a ban earlier.

Giant clams in the wild grow by just 3-4 cm a year, a county official said. "It would take more than 30 years (for a giant clam) to grow to 150 centimeters long."

The government blames the reduction in population on over-harvesting by tourist divers and some locals looking to collect the colorful shells.

In addition to the newly introduced ban, the county has teamed up with the Fisheries Research Institute under the Council of Agriculture to develop a conservation plan aimed at replenishing the giant clam population.

They are also drawing up plans to set up a giant clam-centered marine biology education platform to turn Green Island into a top spot for ecology education, the government said.

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