Cai Shuming, a scientist from the Institute of Geodesy and Geophysics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has been engaged in the study of wetland ecology and comprehensive use of natural resources since the early 1960s. On March 4, the second day of the annual session of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China.org.cn had an exclusive interview with the scientist who was in Beijing attending the session.
Cai put forward quite a few proposals on wetland protection at the CPPCC session. "I'm going to stick to the end with the wetland protection cause," he said.
China is one of the countries with richest wetland resources in the world. All the 31 types of natural and nine kinds of artificial wetlands, listed in the Ramsar Wetland Convention, can be found in China, according to Cai. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is an unrivalled wetland in the world.
According to SFA statistics in 2004, China had a total 38.48 million hectares of wetlands, calculating only those with an area exceeding 100 hectares. The figures include 36.2 million hectares of natural wetlands and 2.28 million artificially formed ones.
To date, 473 wetland nature reserves have been established, helping protect 45 percent of the country's natural wetlands, 30 of which have been included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.
"However, the wetland protection task is arduous and there's still a long way to go," said Cai.
Cai explained that in the past 50 years many localities had occupied significant areas of natural wetlands by reclaiming and cultivating them. The area of natural wetlands had dropped sharply. Over the past 40 years China's coastal regions have lost an accumulated wetland area of 2.19 million hectares – accounting for 50 percent of the total coastal wetland area. The Sanjiang Plain, China's largest freshwater wetland, has dropped from 5.34 million hectares to 1.97 million hectares in the past 50 years.
Speaking of the wetland management systems, Cai explained that as wetlands are subject to the management of many departments in China, there was a diversity of interests between them and little harmony. Due to poor planning and imperfect management mechanisms, most of wetland reserves weren't achieving their full potential.
Since the 1980s, the Chinese government had implemented a series of environmental protection laws and built water environment monitoring networks. These measures played an important role in preventing pollution from damaging the wetlands. The China Wetland Protection Action Plan, which was implemented in 2000, has become the document on China's wetland protection and sustainable development. A circular on strengthening wetland protection management, issued by the State Council in 2004, had put the protection of these areas at the top of agendas at all levels of government.
Currently China has a number of laws which touch upon wetland and resource protection. These include the Environmental Protection Law, the Law on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, the Law on Maritime Environmental Protection and the Regulations Concerning Nature Reserves.
However, said Cai, there were many remaining problems which the existing laws didn't cover, such as ecological protection, unified management concepts, the coordination of work and the jurisdiction over wetlands.
To address these problems Cai suggested the enactment of a wetland protection law which shall define the ownership of the wetlands, set up an environmental appraisal system and an ecological compensation procedure, and establish a legal liability system.
Cai stressed that public participation in wetland protection is needed in both social and economic development terms. It is the duty of citizens to protect the wetlands. The situation in China is that citizens lack basic knowledge to help them put forward suggestions and make decisions. "It's very important to educate people and increase their knowledge of wetland protection. They should be made aware of the laws, the significance of wetland protection, and their responsibilities in this regard," Cai said.
His detailed suggestions include establishing educational bases in wetland reserves, opening wetland ecological educational networks in schools, training special teaching staff, popularizing wetland protection and sustainable development schemes. All of these things should begin at grass roots level.
In August 2005 the State Council approved a national program for wetland protection (2005-2010). According to the program, by 2010, 50 percent of the country's natural wetlands and 70 percent of its important wetlands will be protected; a natural wetland protection network will be in place to curb the trend of natural wetlands disappearing. The program will raise China's capabilities in wetland resource monitoring, management, scientific research, usage and lift public awareness of wetland protection, Cai said.
More about Cai Shuming
Cai Shuming, a researcher of CAS, has been mainly engaged in the study of limnology in the Yangtze River valley, wetlands ecology, use and conservation of natural resources and the overall development of regional agriculture. He paid special attention to the environmental variance of the rivers and lakes in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the rational development, utilization and protection of the wetland resources.
Cai is also a member of the 9th and 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), vice chairman of the CPPCC Hubei Provincial Committee, a director of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the China Association for Promoting Democracy.
In 2002, as member of the China Association for Promoting Democracy, he participated in drafting related wetland protection proposals for the association, which were adopted by state leaders and discussed at the year's national environmental protection conference. Later it was written into the year's government report.
For his great contribution in the research on wetland conservation and its rational use, Cai was presented with the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award for Science at the Ninth Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Convention of Wetlands in Kampala, capital of Uganda, in November 8, 2005.
(China.org.cn by staff reporter Dai Fan, translated by Li Jingrong, March 13, 2006)