Sea Goddess Matsu to be Accompanied by her Critically Endangered “Fish” During Pilgrimage

**Volunteers needed**

This weekend, Taiwanese conservation groups will be joining the eight-day Tachia Matsu Pilgrimage (大甲媽祖遶境) in central Taiwan in order to raise awareness of the plight of Taiwan’s critically endangered humpback dolphins, also known locally as “Matsu’s Fish” (媽祖魚).

Photo: Matsu Temple in Tachia,
courtesy of Michael Turton

According to legend, the Goddess Matsu was born in 960 AD in Fujian Province, China, as a girl named Lin Mo-Niang (林默娘). It is said that she once attempted to rescue her father and brothers, who were caught in a storm while fishing, and that when she died she became immortal and has guarded over fishermen and sailors in the Taiwan Strait ever since.

During the annual pilgrimage, which celebrates Matsu’s birthday on the 23rd day of the third month in the lunar calendar, a statue of the goddess will be carried from Tachia Chenlan Temple (大甲鎮瀾宮) in Taichung, central Taiwan, to nearby cities and villages.

The environmental groups making up the Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union (MFCU) are hoping that their participation in the festival will raise awareness of the critically endangered population of humpback dolphins that live in a narrow stretch of coastal waters along Taiwan’s west coast.

The dolphins are thought to have been named “Matsu’s fish” by coastal communities because they are more easily spotted from around the third month of the lunar calendar and have therefore been said to be surfacing to wish Matsu a happy birthday.The waters of the Taiwan Strait generally become calmer at that time, and therefore the pale pink dolphins are less likely to be confused with the white foam of breaking waves.

Photo: "Survivor" (活著), Sichu Yang -
MFCU says that injured and emaciated
dolphins such as this one reflect greater
environmental problems in Taiwan's west
coast waters

The pilgrimage will take place a month after the Taiwan government held its second meeting to discuss the numerous threats to the population brought to public attention by MFCU. The meeting was seen as a great disappointment by the conservationists, who say that the government has failed to take even the most basic steps such as designating the dolphins’ critical habitat and inviting the team of researchers who have been studying the dolphins since 2002 to join the closed-door discussions.

At the meeting, some felt that the Fisheries Agency was pitting fishermen against the dolphins by suggesting that measures to reduce dolphin entanglement in gillnets would ruin the livelihoods of fishermen. MCFU members argue that the dolphins, being at the top of the food chain, are an indicator of the health of the coastal waters and that their dwindling numbers and sometimes emaciated appearance reflects the poor state of the environment and the unsustainable nature of the west coast fisheries.

“We shouldn’t make the humpback dolphins out to be the enemy, we need to see them as an opportunity,” says Mr Binghen Chen of MFCU.

The procession begins at 23:00 this Saturday (21 March) at Tachia Chenlan Temple and will travel to temples in Dadu Township (大肚鄉), Changhua City (彰化市), Beitou Township (北斗鎮), Hsichou Township (溪洲鄉), Hsiluo Township (西螺鎮), Yuanchang Township (元長鄉) and Singang Township (新港鄉), where a birthday ceremony will be held at 8:00 on 25 March. On the return journey to Tachia, the pilgrims will also pass through Huwei Village (虎尾鎮), Pitou Township (埤頭鄉), Yungchin Township (永靖鄉), Yuanlin Township (員林鎮) and Cingshuei Village (清水鎮).

Due to their limited staff, MFCU are asking the public to help during the procession. Should you wish to participate, please contact MFCU for the schedule and guidance regarding certain practices which should be observed during this important religious festival (including sticking to a vegetarian diet throughout the event).

For information in Taiwanese or Mandarin call Miss Kan on 04-26328001 ext. 17054 or 0982-225613.
For English call Chris on 02-2382 5789 ext. 508 or 0938-643410.