Endangered Yangtze porpoises face shrinking habitat as construction encroaches upon nature reserves

By Li Lei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/5 19:33:42

Finless porpoises are spotted at the Anqing section of the Yangtze River. Photo: VCG

Zhu Ming (pseudonym) stood by the Shamozhou ferry in Anqing, East China's Anhui Province, looking at the ferry berth demolished on November 15 because it was inside a nature reserve for the Yangtze finless porpoise.

The Yangtze finless porpoise is dubbed the "panda in the water." It is a critically endangered animal, as well as an indicator species of the Yangtze River's eco-system, and has been included in the red list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Zhu, who is in charge of a transport company, recalled the ferry station had been there long before the nature reserve. Zhu has been doing business with the ferry for almost 10 years.

"I've seen inspections over dust and muck, but this is the first time we've been inspected over the finless porpoise," said Zhu.

Endangered and ignored

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, a total of 1,012 finless porpoises are living in the Yangtze River, even less than the number of pandas.

A finless porpoise in a breeding pavilion for white-flag dolphins, a species which was recently wiped out despite efforts to save it. Photo: VCG

Li Junsheng, deputy director of the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Science at the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, told the Global Times that human activities are the major cause of the sharp decrease of the finless porpoise. "Their habitat has been replaced by ferries, and more ships sailing on the river disturb them. Additionally, pollution is another cause."

The agricultural ministry also confirmed that human activities have been the major threat to the living environment of the finless porpoise. "Illegal sand mining segments their habitat and disturbs communication within the species, which causes the frequent death of finless porpoises, and more than 10 finless porpoises were found dead in the first half of this year."

Long struggle

The city-level natural reserve for finless porpoise was established in 2007 in Anqing. The Yangtze River Anqing section is the most important habitat for the finless porpoise, according to the ministry.

The 806 square kilometer nature reserve covers the entire Yangtze River's Anqing section.

However, a notice from the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment on November 13 revealed that the nature reserve has shrank, due to three unauthorized adjustments from November 2015 to June 2017 to make way for economic development. Illegal projects constructed in the nature reserve are gnawing away at the habitat of the finless porpoise.

The nature reserve has diminished to 552 square kilometers stretching 152 kilometers along the river. The length was 243 kilometers when the reserve was established, according to the notice.

A total of 121 ferry berths are in Anqing. Five of them are in the buffer zone and 43 are in the experimental zone, according to the local transportation authority.

The Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Nature Reserves stipulate that a nature reserve can be categorized into core zone, buffer zone and experimental zone. Manufacturing that can pollute the environment or jeopardize resources or the landscape should be banned in the experimental zone.

Complement each other

After the announcement of the zone, the city government of Anqing started to reconsider the problems in 2007.

Jiang Kuitang, director of Anqing Environmental Protection Bureau, said that not only had the entire river section in Anqing been included, but also the part of the river in its two neighbor cities, without considering future economic development, reported The Beijing News.

Jiang said this is because there was no plan, no approval, and no accreditation when the reserve was established in 2007.

He said this approach is obviously not rigorous, not scientific and not standardized, according to The Beijing News.

In one of the adjustments, the Wanhekou and Shamozhou areas were degraded from buffer zone to experimental zone in 2016, and removed from the nature reserve in 2017 by the city government of Anqing to give way to the construction of the central harbor of the Anqing Port.

Despite the notices issued by the former Ministry of Agriculture on reinforcing finless porpoise protection in 2014, and the risk to the porpoise identified by multiple ministries on ecology and environmental protection, the construction was approved, because the Anqing Port is the only deep-water harbor along the Yangtze River in Anhui.

"Economic development should be achieved under the premise of preserving nature when the two major aspects contradict with each other," Li  told the Global Times. "Nature preservation and economic development should complement each other."

Wei Xiaoming, secretary of Anqing city committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), vowed to remove or close ferries, gas stations and sewage outlets announced in a notice on November 14.

On November 19, the city government of Anqing announced that a discussion on the establishment of a provincial-level nature reserve for finless porpoise will be launched soon, which will be based on professional evaluations and completed by the end of 2019.
Newspaper headline: Rarer than pandas

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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