The Sad Tale of the Beach Morning-Glory – Surviving Adversity
The Beach morning-glory grows in tropical and subtropical coastal areas and is distributed in the coastal areas of southern and northern Taiwan and the Penghu Islands. It is similar in appearance to another common plant of the same genus, seahore-vine morning glory, but is often out-competed. The habitat area of this plant is the outer sandy areas of the embankment. It is vulnerable to typhoons, embankment construction, and illegal waste dumping that adversely affects its habitat. This article narrates the sad story of beach morning-glory in the Taijiang area that has been negatively influenced by humans since its discovery. Let me tell you how we discovered them.
The Office (Taijiang National Park Management Office) commissioned Professor Hsieh Tsung-Hsin from National Tainan University to conduct a research project "Investigation of Plant Resources in Taijiang National Park" in 2019. According to the results of the survey, there are currently 507 species of vascular plants in 351 genera under 106 families in the Park, including 24 families, 33 genera, and 34 species listed as rare plants in the Red List of Vascular Plants in Taiwan. After deducting 17 species of artificially planted species, there are 16 species of rare plants that grow naturally, one of which is beach morning-glory. The beach morning-glory in the Taijiang area was first discovered by Sun Yun Ting from the Department of Ecology and Environmental Resources of National Tainan University in 2017. They are distributed in the sandy land on the south bank of the Zengwen River estuary. The distribution range is quite narrow. Due to their limited range and population, it has been included in the Vulnerability List (VU: Vulnerable) of the Red List of Vascular Plants in Taiwan 2017.
The beach morning-glory belongs to the Convolvulaceae genus of the Ipomoea family. The morphological characteristics are perennial trailing herbs. The leaves are thick, and the leaf shape varies widely from whole to saddle-shaped. The corolla is funnel-shaped and is around 3.5-5 cm long. In 2019, Professor Hsieh was commissioned by the Office to conduct a comprehensive survey of the vascular plant resources in the Taijiang Park and surrounding areas. The survey results showed that the sandy areas on the south bank of the Zengwen River estuary were the only breeding ground for the beach morning-glory in Taijiang National Park, with only about 20 plants found. The plants were found growing on coastal sandy land, with an area of about 5*10 square meters. The distribution characteristics are in line with the current status of the Red List of Vascular Plants in Taiwan 2017. What is exciting and encouraging is that the plant growth and flowering results are still good.
After clearly defining the distribution range of the beach morning-glory, we immediately carried out on-site protection and determined that the area would be beneficial for them to thrive without intervention. In addition, because it overlaps with the habitat of the seahorse vine morning-glory, and with the sheer number and inherent advantages of the dominant seahorse vine morning glory, we first attempted to distinguish and separate the range of the two slightly, but, this was not enough. The beach morning-glory population, which has been affected by negative environmental factors, was vulnerable and in danger.
On April 25, 2019, we received notification from Professor Hsieh that about half of the habitat of the beach morning-glory had been dumped with illegal waste by unidentified persons. Fortunately, after an on-site investigation, half of the plants survived, avoiding the crisis of collective extinction. We immediately negotiated with the coastal authorities (the Sixth River Management Office, WRA) and restored the land on June 21, 2019, in an attempt to remove the construction waste covering the land and return it to a condition conducive to the habitat of the beach morning-glory. By implementing these in-situ conservation strategies, I was very moved to observe the gradual growth and recovery of the beach morning-glory population. However, I was also aware of the instability of this area and the need to respond to the threats faced by this plant species as soon as possible, so the seed collection and preservation were carried out simultaneously to prepare for subsequent ex-situ restoration. I thought to myself, things should come to a happy ending now!
However, history tends to repeat itself. Once again, we received some bad news, this time even more serious. Today (2020), Professor Xie informed us that the land of the beach morning-glory was once again dumped with construction waste. It was originally a good habitat for the plant, however, the entire area was now covered with up to 2 meters of mixed asphalt and cement waste. The slender and elegant beach morning-glory has now disappeared. The next day, I brought a shovel and came to the scene with a heavy heart, fearing the worst. Yes, I came to bid farewell to the beach morning-glory. With a little hope and an obsession, I came digging for at least any surviving specimen, and by judging the scope of the excavation compared to the historical record photos, with manual labor, I dug with my shovel to take away the heavy sand and cement fragments to look for living plants under the soil. Suddenly, green shapes flashed inadvertently, and the few beach morning-glory underneath seemed to send a weak message from the gap: "Hey! We are still here"...
After finding evidence of the beach morning-glory under the rubble, we urgently contact a large excavator to arrive at the fastest speed to remove most of the rubble, and we assisted by manually digging away the residual sand and looking for surviving plants, and continue to flush the sand with a high-pressure water jet so that their plants can continue surviving. Bit by bit, we dug out the beach morning-glory, so that the heavy burden in my heart could finally be lifted and I was able to say, "fortunately, you are still there."
The distribution of rare plants in Taijiang National Park is relatively low in number compared to high alpine-type national parks. Because the habitats of these plants and the range of human activities are highly overlapped, they face the greater intensity of human interference and threats of habitat destruction. For example, the critically endangered (CR: Critically Endangered) Scaevola hainanensis Hance has similar conditions to the beach morning-glory, and currently only exists in a small habitat of less than 1 hectare in Jiangjun District, Tainan City, and is facing the threat of extinction at any time. In this situation, normal protection zone design and in-situ conservation strategies may not be enough to properly conserve rare plants. It is time to help them find a safe new home. This office is currently commissioning Professor Ching-An Chiu from National Chung Hsing University with carrying out the original collection and seedling operations of native plants in Taijiang National Park and plans to shape the Taijiang Academy into an off-site restoration plant ark for rare plants. It is hoped that this step-by-step effort can help reverse the ill-fated beach morning-glory on a road to survival from desperation. I am writing this article in the hope of raising awareness about this beautiful plant so that every treasured species on this land can survive and thrive.