Dayi Temple Lies in the northern part of Siyu Island in Penghu County, Taiwan. On the outside, it is a normal Taiwanese Daoist temple like any other, but due to its collection of live endangered sea turtles, whale bones, rare marine specimens, and coral rocks kept in an underground chamber, it has become one of the main tourist attractions on the archipelago.
The morality of keeping these endangered species in the temple chamber has been a topic of debate over the past few years, and it is clear to see that they are not living in an ideal environment. This, including allegations of animal rights violations, will be discussed further below.
How to get there:
Go across the cross-island highway to Siyu Island. On the top of the first hill you will see a brown sign pointing left to Dayi Temple. Keep going down the hill and the temple will be on your right.
Address: No. 76 Zhuwan Village, Siyu Township, Penghu County
Price: Free, but donations are welcome.
Hours: 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Map: Please see below:
Dayi temple, or great righteousness temple, was constructed originally in 1862. In 1973 it was rebuilt at a cost of 16 million NT, which included the expanded underground chamber "Lotus Coral Cave" or known by the locals as the "Dragon's Liar" with 20 or so sea turtles. These renovations were completed in 1983.
The religious significance of keeping these sea turtles in the temple is their natural long life, which is thought to rejuvenate visitors. Also, it is believed that if you make a wish and throw a coin that lands on turtles back, your wish will come true.
Besides religious reasons, the cave was also created to boost tourism in the area, which has been well achieved.
In the early years, local fisherman that caught sea turtles by accident would give them to Dayi Temple instead of animal protections agencies, because Taiwan was simply lacking animal protection laws at that time. The temple had at least 20 sea turtles soon after remodeling construction was finished in 1983.
The temple is dedicated to the Wenheng Holy Emperor (文衡聖帝, also known as 關羽 Guan Yu or Guandi), who served under Liu Bei in the Eastern Han Dysnaty during the three kingdoms period, (born in 160 AD). His life stories have been embellished through the ages, but most of them focus on his moral virtue. He is famed to be the epitome of righteousness.
According to legend, during the Sino French War, the Wenheng Emporer appeared and kicked away French cannon balls to protect the Zhuwan village from damage. Because of this, the main temple in the area was dedicated to him. His shrine is the main centerpiece of the temple.
In the main hall of the temple to the left you can see a sign pointing to the entrance of the "Lotus Coral Cave." You can also donate money into the box in front of the sign.
Down below (watch your head for coral) is a labyrinth of coral cemented into the walls. There are some chambers such as the one above with dead coral that has been painted over to look alive, along with other sea shells. It's kind of sad to see, knowing now that coral reefs are shrinking all over the world, but at the time the temple was built environmental protection was not a big issue on everyone's mind.
In the middle of the main chamber is the main pool where you can see most of the sea turtles. There is also a large "Lotus Coral" sitting in the middle of the pool.
The pool used to be a wishing well, with catches on either side for coins, and a sign saying "wishing well" above pictured here. Certainly due to complaints from visitors, the wishing well has recently been taken down. However, you can clearly see that people are still throwing coins into the pond, which may be swallowed later by the turtles.
Animal Rights Violations:
Of the 20 or so sea turtles that originally were placed in the lotus chamber in the 1980s, only 9 remain. Currently there is one Hawksbill Sea Turtle (criticly endangered), one Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (vulnerable), and seven Green Sea Turltles (endangered).
Many people have reported Dayi Temple for animal rights abuses over the years, and tried to get the sea turtles returned to the ocean. Unfortunately, because the sea turtles came into the possession of Dayi temple before endangered animal regulations took effect in Taiwan, the Temple still has the right to keep these animals as long as they make improvements to their living conditions.
According to the Taiwan Life Conservationist Association, Dayi Temple currently is conducting the following abuses to these endangered animals:
I would also like to add that it can get super hot down there (not to mention super cold in the winter), and the water temperature is not regulated like it is in the open ocean.
I'm not a marine biology expert nor did I conduct a scientific study of the conditions of the sea turtles, so I can't say weather to current conditions are suitable or not, and I can't confirm that all of the above allegations are still true. However I give the benefit of the doubt to the temple, and I imagine that the temple has made some improvements for the animals, otherwise they would not be able to keep them per EPA regulations.
As you can see from the above video, the turtles have a very limited space to swim in.
Everywhere in the chamber, the walls are covered in painted coral and lit up sea shells.
Here you can see horseshoe crabs, o "living fossils." These creatures are not endangered, but their living conditions are questionable. Signs reminding visitors not to throw garbage or spit binlang juice into the water.
Another coral chamber, this one mixed with bamboo and flowers, just because?
Pictured above you can see the legendary Xiaomen whale bone. This is a bone supposedly came from the carcass of a whale that was caught in the natural sea arch "Whale Cave" on Xiaomen island, and later died because it could not escape. The cave was later so named because of this whale.
Because the temple obtained the endangered sea turtles before the environmental protection laws to effect in Taiwan, they are still considered property of the temple. The EPA has required that the temple improve the living conditions for the animals, which they say they have complied with. However, it is clear that the Turtles are not living in the best environment.
Another thing to consider is there are cultural and economic reasons to keep the turtles in the temple. Because of the turtles, the town of Zhuwan has become a major tourist attraction, helping earn extra money for the local fisherman and townspeople.
Because of these factors, in my opinion these turtles will probably stay in the temple until they die. However, in the mean time the temple will not be able to add any new sea turtles to its collection.
But maybe they can be let back into the open ocean to roam free if enough people let their voices known.
As for other Taiwan temples that use rare sea shells and coral for decorations, check out this blog by Josh Ellis.
Please feel free to like, comment, and share to help raise awareness for these poor creates!
We are US Expats that have extensive experience living, working, and travelling in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.