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Wetlands Are Making a Comeback
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Experts with the Wetland Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and other wetland institutes are finding that beginning in 2003 many more people have come to them for help and significant numbers are from Jiangsu, Zhejiang provinces and Shanghai.


It seems there’s a “wetland fever” prevailing in the Yangtze River Delta, reported the People’s Daily Overseas Edition on April 25. Statistics show there are altogether 16 wetland parks with a total acreage of 200 sq km now either under construction or at the planning stage. The overall national figure for land of this type is 51.


On the list of the National City Wetland Parks (9) published by the Ministry of Construction last year one third are located in the Yangtze River Delta -- Wuxi and Changshu in Jiangsu Province and Shaoxing in Zhejiang Province.


Cixi City in Zhejiang plans to build a wetland reserve on the southern bank of Hangzhou Bay to the west of Hangzhou Bay Bridge. The reserve, designed to cover 45 sq km, will be the biggest in the delta and will be complete at the same time as the Hangzhou Bay Bridge project in 2008.


Experts concerned have described all this activity as “wetland fever” and using the phrase “bring the dead back to life” to explain their views.


The Shanghu wetland in Jiangsu’s Changshu City is a typical example. The city, rich in water resources, reclaimed land from the Shanghu Lake to plant low-yield rice in the 1960s. In the 80s local people realized the negative effects of their activities and started to convert the reclaimed land back to its original state.


Local government invested some 300 million yuan (US$36 million) in various lake projects over the past few years. Now the 20-sq-km Shanghu wetland has become a bio-diversity breeding area, and a part of it has been developed into a scenic attraction.  


Similar stories have happened all around the country. By the mid-1980s half the beaches and nearly 1,000 natural lakes had disappeared. Many wetlands were replaced by roads and buildings. In 1992, China joined the Convention on Wetland or the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. So far China has established 353 wetland reserves. New life had been breathed into many threatened areas of wetland like the Shanghu Lake in Changshu.


One expert on regional environmental protection feels the “fever” to reclaim wetland is of considerable significance in the urban development process, representing a change in people’s concept of urban development.


Lu Jianjian, a professor from the East China Normal University and also a nationally renowned wetland expert, said wetlands are not buildings which would depreciate. On the contrary their value will rise with the time.


Out of the 17 identified wetland values, their ability to assist in pollution abatement should be given the top priority, said the professor. Yangtze River Delta is a relatively developed industrial area. Pollution control is therefore a long-term issue. At least 60 percent of the ecological value of the wetlands in this region should be gauged through arresting pollution, said Prof Lu.


However, reducing pollution had not been set as the objective in many wetland projects. Even among the completed wetland projects in the Yangtze River Delta none could actually act as the city’s “kidney”.


Active efforts are being made to improve things. A project under the “World Bank – Global Environmental Fund East Asian Ocean Cooperation Plan” scheme in the Hangzhou Bay in Cixi, Zhejiang Province, has clearly identified pollution reduction in the coastal region as the wetland’s primary function. This move was recognized by the East Asian Marine Pollution Reduction Investment Fund. They’ve made a decision to put the Cixi project top on the list of projects it’ll support in the world with a donation of US$5 million.


(China.org.cn by Zhang Tingting, May 1, 2006)

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