China's wetlands hurt by economic growth: report

Updated: 2015-10-21 11:10

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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China's rapid economic development is destroying the country's coastal wetlands, according to a report, and environmental experts blamed a lack of public understanding about what wetlands do for the failure to protect them.

But the report released by the Paulson Institute on Monday in Beijing also faulted local governments.

"Sea reclamation is deemed as the quickest and cheapest way to increase land supply in China's eastern coastal areas," according to the report, and "huge economic returns from reclamation have prompted local governments to 'bypass' regulations issued by the central government."

The report was done in partnership with China's State Forestry Administration and the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and was the culmination of 18 months of research conducted by Chinese experts.

It said thatwith acoastline 18,000 km (11,184 miles) long, China is "very vulnerable" to the detrimental effects of climate change and pursuit of economic growth. As a result of rapid urbanization and economic development, wetlands have been reduced by 40,000 hectares a year between 2006 and 2010, an increase of50 percent between 1950 and 2000, the report said.

"The squeaky wheel gets the oil. People care about their health and if people can see the air pollution or people are getting sick because of water pollution, they're going to complain and the government has to respond," said Nancy Karraker, assistant professor of wetland ecology at the University of Rhode Island. "The public by and large doesn't really understand all of the services that coastal wetlands provide."

Karraker, who was a professor at the University of Hong Kong, said coastal lands are much more valuable from a residential and business standpoint than any other lands in a country, and thus they have been developed far more rapidly.

James Fraser, professor at the department of fish and wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech, echoed similar sentiments, saying that there are competing efforts when it comes to a government's focus on environmental policy.

"When you think about it, the shoreline's just a skinny sliver of land - a very tiny, tiny fraction of what we have in our overall land base — and yet there's all kinds of special uses - marine terminals and fishing - so it does make conservation of those areas difficult," he said.

The Paulson report said "the strategic value of coastal wastelands in China has yet to be fully recognized by some sectors, and the coastal wetland conservation efforts in China are generally at a low level." About one-fifth of wetland areas have been protected, compared to the overall wetland protection rate nationwide at 43.51 percent, which lags behind that of the US and Europe's, according to the report.

"Moreover, much of this protected area falls within ‘experimental zones' where the level of protection afforded remains weak," the report said.

It recommended that there be more wetland legislation at the national level, and that there be better enforcement so that the appropriate parties are held accountable. Authors of the report called for a comprehensive law enforcement system to be established for the major protected areas, which include wetlands of national importance.

The researchers said there were 180 priority conservation areas on the eastern coast.

A civilization performance appraisal and accountability system should be established as well, which include compensation for conservation efforts. Here, the authors of the report suggested China adapt projects that were piloted in the US, such as a mitigation bank,which is a wetland that is restored, enhanced, or established to provide compensation for unavoidable impacts made on aquatic resources.