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Environment improved at Yangtze' headwater

Xinhua | Updated: 2016-11-14 08:00
WUHAN - Surveys have found that the environment at the headwater of the Yangtze, China's longest river, has "markedly improved," with lakes expanding and wildlife thriving.

Changjiang River Scientific Research Institute of Changjiang Water Resources Commission made the conclusion after analyzing the results of a survey in the heartland of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau this summer.

The institute's surveys show that lakes in the area are getting bigger and the number of plants and wild animals have grown over the past 10 years.

The Yangtze's riverhead is part of Sanjiangyuan (three river country), home to the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow, and Lancang (Mekong) rivers. With a fragile ecosystem, Sanjiangyuan is dubbed "Asia's water tower."

From 1989 to 2015, three major lakes in the region's Hol Xil Natural Reserve swelled. The size of Hoh Sai Lake rose to 326 square kilometers from 259 square kilometers; Haiding Nor Lake expanded to 77 square kilometers from 38 kilometers; and the size of Yan Lake nearly quadrupled, according to Tan Debao from the institute.

The year 2003 marked the start of improvements, Tan said. "The three lakes are separate. But in the wet season now they connect," Tan said.

In addition, the plain grass, which was at one time very sparse, has spread to the hillside in the past couple of years, Tan said.

The populations of endangered animals, such as the Tibetan antelope and snow leopard, have also increased. In the past 20 years, the number of Tibetan antelopes has gone from 40,000 to almost 200,000 on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Chen attributed the improved situation to increased temperatures and rainfall. The daily average temperature, highest temperature and lowest temperature at Yangtze' source have significantly risen, according to data collected from eight monitoring stations during the past 60 years.

Statistics from the National Meteorological Bureau said the precipitation in areas of the region at over 4,000 meters above sea level had increased on average by 1.68 millimeters per year from 1961 to 2014.

However, Chen warned that the long-term influence of the climate change needs further monitoring and research.

For example, if an inland salt lake, which gets bigger, starts to flow into the tributary of the Yangtze, Tan said, "We need to be aware of the impact this will have on the Yangtze."
Generous governmental spending on environmental restoration in the Sanjiangyuan area is another factor behind the improved environment.

China established Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve in 2000. Five years later, a 7.6-billion-yuan (1.1-billion-U.S. dollar) conservation project was launched in the region. In January, 2014, a second-phase conservation project (2014-2020) began with financial backing of 16 billion yuan.

Thanks to these efforts, the forest coverage rate in Sanjiangyuan increased from 3.2 percent in 2004 to 4.8 percent in 2012, and is expected to reach 5.5 percent by 2020.

The latest plan to help better protect and manage its natural resources and wildlife is to make the area into a 123,100 square-kilometer national park in five years. Many tourism and educational projects will be limited to the edges of the park, to minimize any impact from human activity.
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