While the vast area around the mouth of the mighty Yangtze River, which includes east China's Shanghai Municipality, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, marches ahead economically, experts warn of serious environmental problems in its marine waters.
"The coastal waters of the area, especially those around large or medium cities, have deteriorated so badly that they will suffer serious and irreversible damage if no effective ecological restoration measures are adopted in time," said Yu Guohui, an expert in oceanographic studies.
Yu cited as an example the situation off the coast of Zhejiang Province.
He said fishermen in the province, who used to ply one of the richest fishing grounds in the country, have found to their distress that they are running out of fish.
Over-fishing, marine construction and huge amounts of residential and industrial sewage discharged into the sea have seriously damaged what was once a "paradise" for marine life.
"The sea area of Zhejiang suffers from some of the highest nitrogen and phosphorus levels of any Chinese sea area and is now a victim of the red tide (algal blooms)," said Yu.
"While large amounts of fish were killed by the pollutants dumped into the seas, old fish breeding grounds are disappearing quickly due to all kinds of man-made projects as well. And the loss, in most cases, is permanent."
Yu recently joined other oceanographic experts at a national symposium in Shanghai to urge the government to stage an ambitious project aimed at restoring marine ecological systems.
The experts have called for stricter controls on fishing, more careful examination and approval of marine engineering projects, and more scrutiny of dumping at sea and waste discharge from offshore platforms.
But the most important task is to control the pollutants discharged into the sea from the land.
Take the coastal waters off Zhejiang as an example.
About 70 to 80 percent of the pollutants discharged into the sea there come from the land.
But the clean-up task poses a great challenge. It would require the establishment of a unified sewage control system along the Yangtze River, which runs across one-third of the country, as well as hugely expensive changes in the layout of sewage pipelines and the establishment of more treatment plants.
The experts' recommendations have been passed on to local oceanographic authorities.
"Careful consideration has been given to the suggestion," said Wang Yun, an official with the Shanghai-based Eastern Branch of the State Oceanographic Administration.
"We expect to submit it to the State Council, because it involves too many different regions along the Yangtze River. It will need strong co-ordination."
(China Daily December 31, 2002)