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Conservation efforts boost Yangtze River wetland

Chen Liang / Li Yingqing
Updated: Dec 6,2016 9:23 AM     China Daily

Waterbirds search for food at a coastal wetland in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province.[Photo/Xinhua]

Bird sanctuaries and businesses benefit from environmental protection project

The patrol teams at the Shanghai Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve need just three essential pieces of equipment for their daily work: a telescope; a pair of binoculars; and a smartphone fitted with an app developed by the reserve.

Every morning, the patrol teams gather in the reserve’s office on Chongming Island in the Yangtze River estuary to identify their planned routes and start work.

They use the equipment to record the numbers and species of birds, traces of animal life and any evidence of illicit human activity, such as cattle herding, that they observe along their route. The app transfers the field data to the reserve’s computers as soon as it is entered into the phone.

The technology gives the managers in the office a clear picture of everything that’s happening in the reserve. “All the data is analyzed regularly so we can discover problems, solve them and improve our management over time,” said Tang Chendong, the reserve’s director, at the 10th annual meeting of Yangtze Wetland Protected Area Network, held in Dali, Yunnan province, last month.

Tang outlined Dongtan’s experiments in wetland conservation and reserve management to about 300 delegates from the State Forestry Administration, and wetland management authorities from 29 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. International organizations also attended including the World Wide Fund for Nature, and research institutes and universities.

Two milu, or Pere David’s deer, feed on wetland in the Tian’ezhou Milu National Nature Reserve in Hubei province.[Photo/China Daily]

Extensive scale

Tang was one of 12 keynote speakers at the meeting, which was organized by the SFA’s Wetland Management Center, WWF China, the UN Development Programme China and the Yunnan Forestry Bureau.

During the meeting, which also acted as a training seminar for participants from the network’s 252 members-mostly wetland reserves and parks within the Yangtze River basin-the delegates discussed how to put the Yangtze River wetland under “extensive protection”.

Speaking at a forum earlier this year, President Xi Jinping said the restoration of the Yangtze River ecosystem should be made “an overwhelming priority” and urged experts to “focus on extensive protection” of the 6,300-km-long river.

“Extensive protection of the Yangtze wetland is key to realizing the country’s goal that ‘the area of wetland in China should not fall below 800 million mu (53.33 million hectares)’,” said Chen Fengxue, the SFA’s deputy director. Protection and restoration of the wetland along the Yangtze River is considered an important way of implementing the national strategy to build an economic belt along the river, he said.

The economic belt covers Shanghai and Chongqing, and nine provinces-Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou-across an area of more than 2 million square kilometers.

At present, 18 Ramsar sites (wetland designated as internationally important), 167 wetland reserves and 291 national wetland parks have been established to manage 11.54 million hectares within the belt.

“They form a comparatively complete wetland conservation system,” Chen said.

A captive Yangtze finless porpoise at the Institute of Hydrobiology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, Hubei province.[Photo/China Daily]

Challenges

The question of how to provide better protection for the Yangtze wetland remains a big challenge, according to Chen.

Reclamation of lakes and other wetland, pollution, overgrazing on alpine wetland and overexploitation of fauna, flora and water resources are some of the factors threatening the Yangtze River wetland, he said.

Chen Jiakuan, a professor of ecology at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the conservation project faces many “very serious problems”.

“Some are terrifying,” he said. “The most pressing problem for me is dam construction on the Yangtze mainstream. A total of 25 dams have been completed, are under construction or are planned for the Jinsha River (the Chinese name for the upper stretches of the Yangtze River), including a few world-class megadams. They have changed the river’s hydrological processes.”

As a result, only about 150 million metric tons of silt have flowed downstream annually in recent years, compared with 450 million tons a year in the 1950s, he said.

“The basin is such a large area. We have often faced different problems involving different departments in different areas since we joined the Yangtze conservation program in the 1990s,” said Liu Xiaohai, conservation director of WWF China. “Protecting a single species-the Yangtze River finless porpoise, for example-we encountered problems caused by sand dredging, pollution, overfishing and navigation.”

In a reserve for giant pandas, conservationists may face environmental problems caused by a village with a population of a few hundred people, he said.

“But about 20,000 people live on Tian’ezhou Island,” he said, explaining that the river island is part of two national nature reserves and is important for the survival of several key species, including the finless porpoise and milu, also known as Pere David’s deer.

When discussing the problem of overfishing, one also has to consider the 150,000 fishermen who make a living from the river, Liu added.

Chen Jiakuan echoed Liu: “That’s why we need extensive protection, which means protecting not just the river, but also the whole watershed-all the forests, rivers and lakes along the lower, middle and upper reaches of the main river. They are communities of lives. To put the Yangtze under extensive protection, we have to deal with all of the problems.”

Invasive plants have become a threat to conservation of the Yangtze River wetland.[Photo/China Daily]

Conservation network

The “cross-regional and cross-sectoral” wetland network is one of the rare cases of successful extensive protection, according to Chen Jiakuan.

Liu Xiaohai said the network’s 10-year development period has given many conservationists confidence in the prospects for Yangtze wetland conservation.

The conservation network had just 27 members when it was founded in 2007 by the Wetland Management Center, WWF China, wetland managing authorities in five provinces and Shanghai, along the middle and lower reaches of the river.

“Now we have expanded to the upper reaches and have 252 members in 12 provinces,” Liu said. “The wetland area managed by our members has expanded from 370,000 hectares to 29 million hectares.”

Jiang Yong, a manager with WWF China’s Yangtze program, said: “The network is a platform for wetland conservationists to share experiences and ideas, identify issues and update our knowledge. Over the years, it has given technical or financial support to more than 100 conservation projects. Many of our successful projects have been promoted among our members, especially new participants.”

Black-necked cranes return to their winter habitat at wetland in Dashanbao Nature Reserve in Yunnan province.[Photo/Xinhua]

Momentum

Liu said that more than half of China’s wetland has joined the network to create a cooperative mechanism and “a momentum of communication”.

The model has been copied on wetland along the Yellow River, the Heilongjiang River and the East Coast, which have established networks of their own.

“We invited representatives from members of the three networks to attend our meeting,” Liu said.

At the meeting, Tang from Dongtan revealed that the reserve recently signed a contract of cooperation with the Dongcaohai National Wetland Park in Heqing county, Yunnan, to help improve the park’s management.

“We will share our experiences in research, monitoring and education with our counterparts in Heqing,” he said.

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