China Acts to Save Cranes’ Habitat

China officially launched its first campaign to supply water to an important but shrinking wetland area Thursday in an effort to protect hundreds of endangered red-crowned cranes inhabiting the Zhalong National Nature Reserve.

Located in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, the reserve covers 210,000 hectares (519,000 acres), 60 percent of which are wetlands. The reserve, the largest of its type and a host to numerous endangered waterfowl species, was put on the International Important Marsh list in 1992 but is now close to drying up.

The water transfer project will supply the reserve with 35 million cubic meters (9.2 billion gallons) of fresh water from the neighboring Jiangdong Irrigation Project before this winter, local water officials said.

The water is expected to save 130 square km (about 50 square miles) of marshland located in the core of the reserve’s red-crowned crane habitat.

Meanwhile, local water authorities are planning to invest 40 million yuan (US$4.8 million) in future water-supply projects over the next three to five years. They claimed the effort will eventually expand the natural reserve’s marshes in the core area from the present 130 to some 600 square km.

There are only 15 varieties of red-crowned cranes with a combined population of some 2,000 left in the world. Nine of the varieties reside in China and six of those, numbering 346 in total, could until recently be exclusively found in the Zhalong National Natural Reserve.

Scientists discovered this year that droughts, which have caused the reserve’s wetlands to shrink from 1,240 square km in 1996 to the present 130 square km, recently drove as many as 80 red-crowned cranes to leave the reserve and migrate to Russia.

The scientists warned that wetlands left dry for too long may be unrecoverable.

Suo Lisheng, China’s vice-minister of water resources, said he hopes the province’s water transfer project can improve the survival environment for all of the wetlands’ endangered species and hence preserve biodiversity in the area.

Suo said he is confident that project will succeed. “It is of vital importance for China to help people be harmonious with nature and ensure sustainable development of the economy and society,” he said.

Suo vowed to optimize China’s existing water resources in the years ahead. While ensuring water supply for the country’s human inhabitants, the government will also use water to improve the country’s environment in the future, he insisted.

China has more than 600,000 square km of wetlands, 10 percent of the world total and the largest amount in Asia.

Known as “nature’s kidneys”, wetlands play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance by providing habitat to rare flora and fauna, restoring flood waters, controlling soil erosion and regulating climate.

(China Daily 07/13/2001)

In This Series

Wetlands Protected for Red-crowned Cranes

First Wetland Information System Developed

Wetland Conservation Action Plan Released

Rare Migratory Birds Flock to Chinese Lake

Highland Wetland Reserve to Be Established

Wetland to be Saved for Birds



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