China vows to rehabilitate Yangtze River ecosystems

After the recent announcement banning commercial land reclamation along China’s coast, spelling good news for the country’s beleaguered coastal wetlands and the millions of shorebirds that depend on them, it is heartening to report some good news for China’s freshwater ecosystems.

Yesterday, Caixin reported that government ministers and city leaders from 15 Provinces have signed the “Wuhan Declaration on the Protection of Life of the Yangtze River”, a commitment to coordinate efforts to rehabilitate the Yangtze River’s ecosystem, a welcome boost to the ailing river.

Sourced on the Tibetan Plateau and snaking 6,300 kilometres to China’s east coast, the Yangtze is the third-longest river in the world and Asia’s largest river system.  It spans 19 provinces/municipalities and hosts over 400 species of fish, 183 of which are endemic. The river is also home to the endangered Narrow-ridged Finless Porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis) and, in winter, its floodplain is globally important for more than half a million migratory birds, many of which are endangered, including the Siberian Crane and Oriental Stork.

The ecological condition of this mighty river has declined dramatically over the last few decades through a combination of dredging, damming, pollution and other harmful human-related activities.  Around 40% of China’s population live along the river and this population pressure has caused disruption to the flood plains and polluted the river with pesticides and agricultural waste.  According to Caixin’s article, more than 50,000 dams and hydropower stations have been built along the river, including the enormous Three Gorges Dam.

The “Wuhan Declaration on the Protection of Life of the Yangtze River” pledges to coordinate efforts to promote the protection of the ecology and environment of China’s “mother river” and quotes President Xi Jinping’s comments during a visit in April that development along the river should be based on the premise of maintaining ecological protection.

Let’s hope this is the beginning of a major new commitment to properly value, protect, and restore, China’s vital freshwater ecosystems.


Header photo: releasing fish into the Yangtze River by VCG via Caixin

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