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Environmental protection makes China's wetland areas flourish

By Hou Liqiang| China Daily| Updated: November 7, 2022 L M S

China has made great strides in reclaiming and safeguarding crucial habitats, Hou Liqiang reports.

The area of the Yellow River Wetland Park in Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia Hui autonomous region, was once a place local residents avoided: raw sewage from nearby drains caused foul smells and there was almost no grass on the saline-alkaline land.

Now, the park is not only a hot destination for locals to take a stroll, but also attracts many migratory birds seeking shelter during their travels.

As secretary-general of Ningxia's bird observation association, Li Zhijun is keenly aware of the changes in the park. Together with some other wetland areas along the Yellow River in Ningxia, it has become a famous spot for bird photographers, he said, adding that more suitable habitats for migratory birds are emerging as the environment improves and the wetland coverage expands.

The Yinchuan wetland park is just a microcosm of the achievements China has made in wetland conservation in recent decades, thanks to the importance the central authorities attached to the issue.

During a 2020 inspection tour in Zhejiang province, President Xi Jinping visited the Xixi National Wetland Park — the country's first such facility — in Hangzhou, the provincial capital. He stressed the importance of protecting wetland ecology and the aquatic environment.

In addition to ordering measures to make the park a green space, Xi said tourism development should not take place at the expense of the ecological environment. The same year, he visited a wetland at Dianchi Lake in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, to view protection work on the lake and antipollution measures.

In his report to the opening session of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on Oct 16, Xi said China's modernization features a huge population, common prosperity for all, material and cultural-ethical advancement, harmony between humanity and nature, and peaceful development.

"Respecting, adapting to and protecting nature is essential to building China into a modern socialist country in all respects. We must remember to maintain harmony between humanity and nature when planning our development," he said.

Important anniversary

This year marks the 30th anniversary of China becoming a contracting party to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. "In the past three decades, under the government's leadership, the ecological conditions in wetland areas have seen consistent improvement, thanks to strengthened efforts by people from all walks of life to promote wetland protection and remediation, and implement the philosophy of sustainable development and the ecological civilization," said Wu Zhimin, director of the wetland management department at the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.

"Ecological civilization" is a concept promoted by Xi that emphasizes balanced, sustainable development and harmonious coexistence of humanity and nature.

As home to just 4 percent of the planet's wetland areas, China has met the demands of 20 percent of the world's population for wetland functions in the operations of production, life and ecosystem, Wu said. He added that the country has made significant contributions to wetland conservation and sustainable use.

In 2003, the State Council, China's Cabinet, approved a national wetland protection plan (2002-30). Since then, the central government has allocated 19.8 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) for wetland conservation via three five-year plans, and more than 4,100 projects have been launched to protect and remediate wetland, he said. Wu said comprehensive protection measures were rolled out from 2016 to last year after the government assessed conditions in the country's wetland areas and took action to aid damaged regions. For example, the transformation of Yinchuan's Yellow River Wetland Park into an avian paradise came thanks to a wetland purification project launched by the local government in 2018.

In addition to measures to curb the discharge of sewage and other pollutants into the river, the project included efforts to preserve the river's ecosystem by building wetland and improving drainage networks, said Cao Jing, an official with the Yinchuan ecology and environment bureau. The city has set up eight protected wetland areas — five of them man-made — covering 733 hectares, she said.

Transition period

Despite the cost, remediation measures have been started in many wetland areas.

As such, to protect wetland in the Yellow River estuary in Dongying, Shandong province, the local government and Sinopec's Shengli Oilfield have in recent years demolished about 300 oil wells located in and around the core area of the river delta, according to the National Development and Reform Commission, which noted that the annual output value of the wells stood at more than 500 million yuan.

Dongying has launched 16 wetland remediation projects in the Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve, with a total investment of roughly 1.1 billion yuan, it said. The total area of farmland and fish farms returned to wetland and beaches has reached more than 4,800 hectares.

Environmental improvements have seen the number of bird species in the reserve rise from 187 in 1992, when it was established, to the current 371. Moreover, the populations of the 38 species in the reserve equal 1 percent of the global total.

Chen Hao, Party chief of Huzhou, said it was the first prefecture-level city in Zhejiang to devise a wetland protection plan. So far, the city has treated 16,000 hectares of wetland as it returns farmland to nature and restores aquatic plants, Hao said.

Huzhou has started an ecological compensation mechanism to encourage work to protect and remediate wetland areas in different areas, he said, adding that the city pays more than 20 million yuan in compensation every year.

The National Forestry and Grassland Administration said there are 1,600 wetland parks and 600 wetland nature reserves nationwide, while 64 wetland areas have been designated as being of international importance. "China has established a system for wetland protection and management," said Wu, from the administration, adding that the proportion of protected wetland nationwide is 52.7 percent.

Last year, the National People's Congress, the top legislature, passed the Wetland Protection Law — the first dedicated to the issue. It came into effect on June 1, meaning wetland conservation efforts have entered a new era, Wu said.

He said the NFGA will introduce new regulations, mechanisms and policies, and guide regions nationwide to draft or revise rules to raise the protection rate to 55 percent and restore about 66,000 hectares of wetland by 2025.

Xinhua contributed to this story.