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China's 21 Wetlands of International Importance

China’s wetlands include 10 percent of all the wetlands in the world.  (See also “Environmental Protection.”) These wetland areas not only are vital to the earth’s ecology but also are attractive places for people for birding and observing other wildlife, fishing (both commercial and recreational) and development of ecotourism and environmental education.  Among the many protected wetlands in China, the following 21 sites have been designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, joined by China in 1992.  The total area of these 21 sites presently covers a surface area of 3.03 million ha.

Chongming Dongtan Nature Reserve, Shanghai. An extensive area of fresh and salt water marshes, tidal creeks, and intertidal mudflats at the eastern end of Chongming Island, a low-lying alluvial island in the mouth of the Yangtze River, which supports farmland, fish and crab ponds, and extensive reed beds. The site is a staging and wintering site for millions of birds, as well as a spawning and feeding ground for 63 species of fish, including the protected Chinese sturgeon (Acipenser sinensis). Because it is close to Shanghai, this area is popular with tourists but the numbers of visitors within the site are regulated. The area also supports important fisheries. The site is being developed— with support by the GEF and WWF—as a center for environmental education and training.

Dafeng (Elaphurus davidianus) National Nature Reserve, Jiangsu.  A typical intertidal mudflat eco-system on the coastline of the Yellow Sea, supporting a wide variety of rare animal species, including 315 species of birds (23 of them nationally protected), 600 of insects and 156 of fish, as well as the threatened Pere David’s deer or Milu. Following the introduction of 39 Milu in 1986, the population has grown to nearly 500, said to be the largest Milu population in the world. The site performs all of the normal coastal wetland functions, such as flood control, sediment retention, and shoreline stabilization. The site hosts some 150,000 visitors per year; surrounding areas are used for forestry and agriculture.

Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve, Inner Mongolia. A complex of lakes, rivers, marshes, shrubs, grasslands and reed beds typical of wetlands in arid steppes, still retaining near-natural conditions. A staging area in the East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Flyway, the site is important for some 284 bird species. Some 30 fish species are supported, of both Siberian and northeast China types, and some are economically important. The Dalai Lake region, as the only lower land of the Hulunbuir Plateau, has great significance for flood storage, sediment retention, and groundwater recharge, and is critical for maintaining regional climate and increasing air humidity. Tourism offers bird watching, boating, and traditional Mongolian foods, customs, and cultures, and the area is becoming a center for environmental education and research. Fishing is the primary activity of the water area, accounting for some 10,000 tons of commercial fish per year, and livestock grazing in surrounding grasslands involves more than two million animals.

Dalian National Spotted Seal (Phoca vitulina) Nature Reserve,  Liaoning.  A coastal area of the Bohai Sea, 20 km from Dalian City, consisting of sea floor covered by pedestal rock of between 5 and 40 meters’ depth and including over 70 islands and islets with rocky coasts and reefs. The site provides habitat for 100 species of fish and numerous shellfish, as well as breeding grounds for a number of whale and dolphin species. The reserve is best known for the spotted seal, which attracts large numbers of tourists from the nearby city and elsewhere. The spotted seal population has fallen to about 1,000 and the species is presently considered endangered.

Dongtinghu (Dongting Lake), Hunan.  Nature reserve. A freshwater lake with numerous smaller lakes and ponds, marshes, swamps and wet grasslands fed by flooding from the Yangtze and four other rivers. The site is extremely important for 20 species of wintering and staging migratory birds, and supports 200 species of fish, of which 20 are commercially important.

Dongzhaigang, Hainan.  Nature reserve. A small shallow sea bay of extensive intertidal mudflats and mangrove swamps. The swamps are important feeding and nursery areas for water birds and fish. The site is located in a densely populated region, surrounded by numerous villages and large rice paddies.

Ordos National Nature Reserve, Inner Mongolia.  A typical Eurasian grassland and Asian desert with high ecological fragility, including a large number of permanent freshwater and saline lakes and pools, with islands and human-made aquaculture ponds. The site supports some 15,000 breeding relic gull in May and is a staging area for 60 percent of the world’s population of that species; some 83 other species of water birds are also present, with 18 of them breeding there. Within the site, 16 villages support a population of 6,400 people who rely upon undeveloped agriculture, forestry, and livestock grazing for their livelihoods; fish farming is also practiced within the site.

Honghe National Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang.  A near-natural marsh eco-system with a large variety of wetland types, providing support for six endangered and rare species of flora and three of avifauna. The Reserve is the main breeding site for the Oriental stork, as well as for black stork, red-crowned and white-napped cranes, whooper swan, and mandarin duck. State-owned farms cultivate rice in the area.

Huidong Harbor Sea Turtle National Nature Reserve, Guangdong. At the juncture of Daya Bay and Honghai Bay in the South China Sea, presently the only sea turtle protected area in China, with seawater and gently-sloping sandy beaches especially suitable for sea turtles, traditionally honored in the region as a symbol of longevity and good luck. The beach, 1,000 m long and 70 m wide, surrounded by mountains on three sides, supports as many as 400-500 green turtles during egg-laying. The area is under collective ownership, and the site has been delimited as a fishery protected area by local government. Artificial incubation and breeding ponds have been established to assist young turtles when adverse conditions, such as bad weather, warrant.

Mai Po Marshes & Inner Deep Bay, Hong Kong. A shallow coastal bay with extensive intertidal mudflats backed by dwarf mangroves, shrimp and fish ponds. Thirteen globally threatened species of birds and 17 species of invertebrates new to science are present. An important area for internationally important numbers of wintering and migrating water birds, the site regularly holds over one percent of the global population of at least three species of birds.

Nandongtinghu Wetland and Waterfowl Reserve, Hunan. Nature reserve. Located in the southern part of Dongting Lake, the largest lake on the plains of the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, the site supports important numbers of endangered Oriental stork and Siberian crane as well as Chinese sturgeon. It also plays an important role in the regulation and storage of flood water from the Yangtze. Some 14,000 people live within the site, chiefly practicing fishing and aquaculture in artificial ponds and growing economic crops in the mudflat areas, including some 120,000 tons of reeds annually. Some 24,000 bird-watchers visit the site’s facilities annually.

Niaodao (“Bird Island”), Qinghai. Nature reserve. The lake, centered on an island, is fed by two rivers and numerous smaller rivers originating from mountain snow melt. Marshes are both brackish and fresh, along which a rich alpine meadow community thrives. The site is extremely important for numerous species of breeding birds, wintering ducks, geese, and swans and for staging water birds in spring and autumn.

Poyanghu, Jiangxi. Nature reserve; crane network site. A large freshwater lake subject to seasonal fluctuations, within a region of subtropical, deciduous broadleaf and evergreen forest surrounded by marshes and wet grassland fed by five major rivers. The site supports numerous species of plankton, mollusk, fish, and mammals and at least 46 species of birds. It is important for wintering and staging birds and for a population of 20,000 people whose activities include grazing water buffaloes, harvesting grass and aquatic vegetation, small-scale cultivation, fishing and a freshwater pearl industry.

Sanjiang National Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang.   Near the Sino-Russian border. An alluvial floodplain typical of high-altitude wetlands, a mixture of rivers, open bogs, seasonally flooded meadows, and sedge marshes, the largest area of freshwater wetland in the country. The site is internationally important for water birds, particularly ducks, and for fishery resources, and serves as a natural reservoir for the Sanjiang Plains, providing vital flood control as well. Due to its remote location and cold winters, human interference has been minimal, though local inhabitants — including 300-400 people of the Hezhen (one of the smallest ethnic groups in China) who support a unique culture — find abundant animal, fish, and forest resources.

Shankou Mangrove Nature Reserve, Guangxi.  Two related areas on either side of the Shatian Peninsula on the Beibu Bay at the border between the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Guangdong Province in the southwest of China, where salt marshes and mangrove forests form a protective barrier for the coastal farmlands and villages. Some 14 species of mangrove are represented and provide support for a number of vulnerable and endangered species, including the Chinese dolphin, as well as for a large number of nationally protected bird species.

Xidongtinghu Nature Reserve, Hunan. The important western part of Dongting Lake, comprising an open freshwater lake and smaller lakes, some shallow mudflats during low water periods, reed swamps, sphagnum bogs, and beaches. The site is very important for rare fish, such as Chinese sturgeons, and birds, such as the threatened Oriental storks. It serves as a staging area for many other migrating cranes and storks. Fishing, and increasingly fish-breeding, and livestock grazing are important economic activities dependent upon the site. Conservation research and education, with assistance from WWF, are increasingly important as is eco-tourism because of the extraordinary beauty of the site, with its “deeply green grass and dancing water birds.”

Xingkai Lake National Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang.   A complex wetland system including grasslands, marshes, lakes, and forests, contiguous with Russia to the south across the Songacha River. The site, at the northern end of the large lake, provides an important breeding habitat for a number of bird species protected in China, and some 65 fish species and more than 460 higher plant species are present. A transboundary nature reserve agreement (including joint training) was established in 1992 with the Khank Nature Reserve in Russia, with the help of the International Crane Foundation, and another in 1996 for management of the whole Xingkai Lake. The reserve joined the Northeast Asian Crane Site Network in 1997. Four eco-tourism resorts drew 500,000 visitors from China and abroad in 2000.

Xianghai, Jilin. Nature reserve; crane network site. A system of freshwater marshes, lakes, wet grasslands and a linked series of irrigation canals, fed by three major rivers. The site includes sand dunes, plantations, cultivated land and reservoirs subject to spring flooding. At least 30 species of mammals are found here and the area is important for breeding, wintering and staging water birds. Fifteen thousand permanent inhabitants cultivate various crops, raise livestock and, in winter, cut reeds for the paper industry.

Yancheng National Nature Reserve, Jiangsu.   Comprises the largest coastal wetland in China, expansive mudflats along over 120 km of coastline that supports high biodiversity. About three million individuals of 200 bird species are said to migrate through the site annually, and many winter here. The site provides one of the two largest habitats in China for the Pere David’s deer known as “Milu,” and is said to support about 10 percent of the world population of black-faced spoonbills. The core areas are uninhabited and in natural condition, whereas the buffer and experimental zones include rice fields, fish and shrimp ponds, with about one million people living in and near the site. The site is owned by Yancheng City: the Reserve management has managerial rights over the core areas, whilst local governments have managerial rights over the buffer zones, within agreed parameters.

Zhalong, Heilongjiang. Nature reserve. A system of permanent and seasonally flooded freshwater marshes, shallow lakes and ponds, with extensive reedbeds and grasslands. An important area for breeding, wintering, and staging migratory birds, supporting more than 500 species of plants, 42 species of fish, and numerous amphibians. Reed harvesting provides a major source of income.

Zhanjiang Mangrove National Nature Reserve, Guangdong.    The largest mangrove forest wetland reserve in China, located along coastal areas of the Leizhou Peninsula at the southernmost tip of China between the South China Sea and the Beibu Bay, adjacent to Hainan Island. Some 24 species of mangrove are said to be present, and at low tide large areas of exposed mudflats provide excellent support for migrating water birds. Like other mangrove forests, the somewhat separate components of the site provide sanctuary for offshore fish, sustenance for birds and other fauna, and coastal protection from waves, tides, and storm surges. The coastal and inshore area supports economic fishing and aquaculture for local people. Agricultural and urban development and fish farming have destroyed many of the former mangrove areas, but a comprehensive management and afforestation program for the Reserve, supported by the Netherlands, is helping to arrest damage done to some mangrove areas by farming and urban development.—Source: Ramsar Convention on Wetlands  http://www.ramsar.org/

Chinese Land and Natural Resource Websites in English

 Ministry of Land and Resources  



Ministry of Water Resources 



Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research http://www.bulletin.ac.cn/ACTION/2000113002.htm


China Meteorological Administration



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