China / Cover Story

Taking a leaf out of the book of nature

By Peng Yining and Huang Yiming (China Daily) Updated: 2014-06-16 08:05

Important habitats

Mangrove forests are important habitats for migratory birds in China's coastal areas, including the provinces of Hainan, Guangdong and Guangxi, and as breeding grounds for a wide variety of fish species. The forests also help to protect the human inhabitants by limiting coastal erosion.

Decades ago, China's mangrove forests were being depleted at an alarming rate, but that process has been reversed and the country now has 18 mangrove forest conservation areas.

Since 2012, the authorities in Haikou have closed dozens of pig farms close to the nature reserve, moved 58 duck farms further inland, and cleaned more than 280 metric tons of garbage from the conservation area. Now nearly 250 hectares of shrimp "farmland" have been planted with mangrove trees.

Jiang Yuexiang, the head of a village 2 km from Dongzhaigang, said that before the reserve was founded fishing was the only means of earning a living for the 50 families in the sleepy village.

"When fishing was banned in the protected area, many young people left the village to look for work. However, as the tourists began arriving, people started coming back and opening small businesses," said the 70-year-old, who has been the village head for 50 years. "We used to cut down the forest to make a living, but now we make a living by protecting it."

The village, which is too small to feature on local maps, has one of the most famous seafood restaurants in the area. After a cruise around the mangrove forests, visitors can eat dinner in the village before lying back in hammocks on the beach and enjoying the ocean breeze.

The goals of the Dongzhaigang reserve include raising public awareness of conservation, the restoration of the mangrove ecosystem, and the promotion of sustainable community development, said staff member Li Hualiang.

According to Li, 134 villages and 230,00 people are influenced by the close proximity of the reserve, partly because the local government provides a subsidy of 2,000 to 5,000 yuan for each mu (0.07 of a hectare) of shrimp farmland that's returned to a forested state. Li regards the subsidy as a positive move, but is aware that more needs to be done to safeguard people's futures: "Even if people are willing to take the money, they will still need jobs. Hopefully, the burgeoning tourism industry will help to provide them. The people will protect the forests while the forests protect the people."

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