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Economic boom in coastal areas harms vulnerable wetlands

Updated: 2012-06-27 10:37
By Liu Xiangrui ( China Daily)

Related: Migration devastation, Flight of the ornithologist

China's coastal wetlands, especially mudflats, continue to diminish at astonishing speed as coastal-based economies boom.

While planning the marine function zones, experts of the National Bureau of Oceanography point out that China should set up protection zones covering 11 percent of its offshore areas, and the protected area should reach 5 percent of its total territorial sea before 2020.

"But the current figure is smaller than 1 percent," Wang Songlin, WWF China's marine program officer, says.

A recent report by a marine research group under China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development points out that in recent decade, China has witnessed a new climax of coastal reclamation for urban, port and industrial constructions.

The report shows an average of 285 square kilometers of land is reclaimed every year, resulting in the loss of 57 percent of its coastal wetlands, and the ecological costs from the damage of the coastal wetlands are equal to 6 percent of the country's annual marine GDP.

Wetlands play a critical role in the ecosystem including providing food and clean water for humans, habitats for wildlife and protection against floods, typhoons, tsunamis and tidal surges.

"Wetlands to the Earth is what kidneys are to humans," notes Li Lin, WWF's deputy chief representative to China.

China's natural wetland area ranks fourth globally, but the ratio compared with its land area is much lower than the world's average, at 6 percent.

China joined the Ramsar Convention in 1992, and has since committed to many other international conventions related to wetland protection. That's an indication that wetland protection is on the country's agenda.

In 2004, the State Council also issued a document to strengthen wetland protection. And in May, the Ministry of Environmental Protection again vowed to protect the ecosystem more effectively by drawing a national "ecological red line". It plans to accelerate the enactment of environmental laws and policies for important ecological zones, inland and marine regions.

The ecological costs of China's coastal reclamation have also drawn wide attention from some legislative advisors in the country.

Yuan Xikun, the artist and a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, submitted a policy proposal at the conference's annual session this spring.

"We should never forget that nature and its resources are not what we inherited from our ancestors, but are also what we borrowed from our descendants," Yuan, also an active conservationist, emphasizes.

His proposal calls for the drawing of a "conservation red line" for at least 10 percent of critical coastal wetlands that serve as shorebird stopover sites and shellfish habitats in the Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea.

The lost of coastal wetlands in the Bohai Bay has caused severe problems such as pollution, a decline in fishing resources and reduced biodiversity.

The marine research group under the CCICED also warns that the Bohai Sea could become a "dead sea" if effective measures are not taken soon.

But Wang Songlin points out that although China has relevant laws and regulations for wetland protection, the problem usually lies during implementation by some regional governments.

Jiangsu, a developed province in the eastern coast, for example, boasts over 6,670 sq km and about one fourth of the nation's mudflats area.

But its coastal development plans between 2010 and 2020 would result in the province claiming 1,817 sq km of mudflats - a detrimental move which will harm the ecosystem.

liuxiangrui@chinadaily.com.cn

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