Snow dusts the peak of Jade Mountain, or Yushan, in central Taiwan. (Courtesy of Chen Fang-yi)
- Taiwan’s Jade Mountain is the highest peak in East Asia.
- Around 20 percent of the country’s land area is protected.
The Republic of China (Taiwan) is situated in the West Pacific between Japan and the Philippines. Its jurisdiction extends to the archipelagoes of Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, as well as numerous other islets. The total area of Taiwan proper and its outlying islands is around 36,197 square kilometers.At about the size of the Netherlands, but with a population of some 23 million, Taiwan is more populous than three-quarters of the world’s nations. Taiwan proper has more than its share of natural splendor. Mountain ranges with many peaks reaching over 3,000 meters—including East Asia’s highest, Jade Mountain (Yushan)—and forested foothills occupy more than half of its area.The island also features volcanic mountains, tablelands, coastal plains and basins. The Diaoyutai Islands, which lie northeast of Taiwan, and a number of islands in the South China Sea, including those in the Tungsha (Pratas), Nansha (Spratly), Shisha (Paracel) and Chungsha (Macclesfield Bank) islands, are also part of the territory of the ROC.
Sitting in the path of warm ocean currents off the east coast of continental Asia, Taiwan proper is uniquely blessed with a wide range of climatic zones from tropical to temperate. This, in combination with fertile soil and abundant rainfall, makes it an agricultural paradise where virtually any kind of fruit or vegetable can be cultivated. It also makes the island a recreational wonderland. In the winter, one can watch the snow fall on the slopes of Hehuan Mountain in Nantou County and then travel a mere 200 kilometers to balmy Pingtung County to enjoy skin diving at coral reefs along the island’s southern tip.
The smaller islands, meanwhile, have their own unique natural features, such as the basalt pillars on the Penghu Islands and the marine hot springs along the shores of Green Island and Guishan Island.
Flora and Fauna
Taiwan’s tropical-to-temperate spectrum of climatic zones and wide range of topographies have endowed the island with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Some 120 species of mammals, 670 species of birds, 141
species of reptiles, 65 species of amphibians, 400 species of butterflies and 3,100 species of fish are known to inhabit Taiwan. The island’s plant life comprises 674 species of ferns, 4,596 species of angiosperms and 34 species of gymnosperms. To protect the ecosystems in which these plants and animals reside, the government has reserved about 20 percent of the nation’s land area as protected areas, comprising nine national parks and one national nature park, 22 nature reserves for special ecosystems, six forest reserve areas, 20 wildlife refuges and 37 major wildlife habitats.
The Formosan landlocked salmon, one of the nation’s best-known indigenous species, is found in the frigid mountain waters of central Taiwan. (Courtesy of Shei-pa National Park)
Among the most famous Taiwan species of fauna is the Formosan landlocked salmon (Oncorhynchus masou formosanus). The fish is believed to have become trapped in the frigid mountain waters of central Taiwan during the last ice age when ocean levels dropped dramatically and the salmon could no longer migrate back and forth between fresh water and salt water.To protect the endangered species, the Formosan Landlocked Salmon Refuge was established in the upper reaches of the Dajia River in Shei-pa National Park.