Orchid Island

Orchid Island

Coordinates: 22°03′N 121°32′E / 22.05°N 121.533°E / 22.05; 121.533

Orchid Island is located in Taiwan
Orchid Island
Location of Orchid Island

Orchid Island (Yami language: Ponso no Tao or Pongso no Tao; Chinese: 蘭嶼; pinyin: Lán Yǔ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Lân-sū) is a 45-km² volcanic 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. 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 or Pongso no Tawo (island of the people) or Irala. The island is also known as Botel Tobago.

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



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 Hongtouyu (紅頭嶼 Red-headed island), from which it was called Kōtō-sho during Japanese rule of Taiwan. The Japanese government declared the island an ethnological research area off-limits to the public. This restriction remained in effect when the Republic of China took over 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. Since then, schools were built on the island and education in Mandarin became compulsory. Tourism to the island has also increased. The island is known by the Ami as Buturu and by the Puyuma as Botol.

On January 19, 1946, the island was designated as Hongtouyu Township (紅頭嶼鄉 "Red-headed Island") of Taitung County. November 24 of that year, it was renamed to Lan Yu, or Orchid Island, after the local Phalaenopsis orchids.


The island is accessible by sea or air. Daily Air is the only airline to offer flights to Orchid Island. The flight duration is half an hour and the daily frequency is dependent on weather conditions. Ferry trips to the island is available from Taitung's Fukang harbor.


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 Miocene to 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.[1]


The islanders are farmers and fisherman relying on a large annual catch of flying fish and on wet taro, yams, and millet.

Nuclear waste controversy

In 1974 the Atomic Energy Commission of the Republic of China selected Long Men (龍門) at the southern tip of Orchid Island as the site to build a "temporary" nuclear waste disposal facility. In reality, it was intended to store as much as 340,000 barrels (18,000 tons) of nuclear waste over a period of 50 years. The government deceived the Tao district commissioner, who was illiterate, that the government wanted to build a fish cannery and needed his signature to approve the project. In 1978 a harbor was built and construction of the nuclear storage facility began in 1980. During this whole time, the government continued its deception on the islanders until the island's churchgoers found out the truth from mainland Taiwan news reports. Shipments of low and mid-level nuclear waste began arriving in May 1982 from Taiwan's three nuclear power plants operated by state-owned Taipower. There are 97,672 barrels (over 4,800 tons) [2] stored on the island in 23 concrete trenches without permission.

The situation gained nationwide publicity in 1991 when Kuo Jian-ping, a Presbyterian missionary, with the support of anti-nuclear groups, held demonstrations in Taipei and handed a letter to Taipower making three demands: to stop the expansion of the second phase of construction on the waste site; the immediate stoppage of all nuclear shipments to Orchid Island; and the complete shutdown of the storage site by June 30, 1991. Taipower only complied with the first demand. It later complied with the second demand in 1996, but operation of the nuclear storage site still continues. The Executive Yuan is expected to find a final destination for the nuclear waste and to complete construction of a storage site by 2016. The government has been negotiatiating with Russia, the People's Republic of China, North Korea, and Solomon Islands for the transferring and storage of Taiwan's nuclear waste.

In 2002, over half of the island population protested in front of the nuclear storage facility over the government's failure to keep its pledge to remove 100,000 barrels of low-level nuclear waste from the island [3]. Premier Yu Shyi-kun apologized in legislature over the government's failures to keep good on its pledges and that he could not say when and how the nuclear waste will be removed from the island given the difficulties of finding an alternative site. Taipower on the other hand asked the islanders to extend the storage arrangement for another nine years in exchange for NT$200 million (US$5.7 million).


The village communities (社) are: (The asterisks indicate the four current administrative villages (村)

Yami name Chinese Note
Yayu Yeyou (椰油) *
Iraralay Langdao (朗島) *
Iranumilk Dongqing (東清) *
Ivarinu Yeyin (野銀) not an administrative village
Imourud Hongtou (紅頭) * Redhead Village, township seat
Iratai Yuren (漁人) Incorporated into Imourud Village in 1946
Iwatas Yiwadasi 伊瓦達斯 Incorporated into Yayu in 1940

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 airplane's target practice. It is home to a critically endangered endemic orchid, Phalaenopsis equestris f. aurea.

See also


  1. ^ Zhang Jinhai and He Lishi (2002). "Geology of Taiwan Province". Geology of China. Geological Publishing House. ISBN 7-116-02268-6. 
  2. ^ "Search for site for nation's nuclear waste continues". Taipei Times. November 14, 2006. http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2006/11/14/2003336272. 
  3. ^ "Orchid Island launches new protests against nuclear waste". Kyodo. May 6, 2002. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0WDP/is_2002_May_6/ai_85519940. 

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