County and international NGOs collaborate to save major bird migration pit-stop

By Deng Xiaoci in Luan'nan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/18 17:53:39

A farmer works in a wetland in Raohe, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province on Friday morning. Photo: CFP

Every year, hundreds of thousands of birds traveling between East Asia and the Southern Hemisphere take a break from their journey in the Nanpu wetlands in North China's Hebei Province.

To ensure that the wetlands remain a welcoming spot for rest and relaxation in the years to come, the local government of Luan'nan county has vowed to set up a provincial-level conservation area within the next five years.

To drive this plan forward the county has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Hebei Provincial Forestry Administration, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Paulson Institute (PI), a think tank dedicated to improving Sino-US cooperation.

Due to the project's demand for relevant expertise, the local authorities are willing to fully cooperate with the WWF, said Liu Suyan, deputy head of the county.

The project will not only serve to protect nature, the birds and the local fishermen, but also forge an international name for Luan'nan, Liu said.

Devouring the ecosystem

The Nanpu wetlands sit outside the industrial city of Tangshan, near the northern part of the Bohai Bay, and boasts rich tidal mudflats, aquaculture and salt ponds.

Zhang Zhengwang, a Beijing Normal University ornithologist who has worked in the area for a decade, told the Global Times that the region is one of the most important pit stops for birds traveling along the East Asia-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), a route taken by as many as 50 million migratory birds a year.

About 350,000 birds, including red knots, curlew sandpipers and black-tailed godwits, stay in Luan'nan every year before resuming their migration journey, Zhang said during a keynote speech at the memorandum's signing ceremony.

A total of 27 of the 40 bird species that can be found in the wetlands have over 1 percent of their total global population pass through Luan'nan every year, making it an extremely important habitat for those species by international standards.

But as Hebei's industries devour the ecosystem, the Luan'nan area has become the Bohai Bay's last bird haven, meaning protection work cannot wait, he noted.

Overall, coastal wetlands in China are facing great pressure from economic development. Over the past 50 years, China has lost more than 60 percent of its natural coastal wetlands. Although the Nanpu wetlands are largely intact, they are facing many threats, such as land reclamation, over-fishing and an invasion of Spartina alterniflora, a rapidly spreading grass that kills off ecosystems.

These threats may have a serious negative impact on the continued survival of many birds living in the wetlands and adversely affect local sustainable development.

Studies show that there has been a steady decrease in the populations of some migratory water birds that depend greatly on the Nanpu wetlands for refueling.

For instance, over the past decade, the population of red knots that winter in New Zealand and Australia after traveling along the EAAF has been declining at an annual rate of 9 percent. The International Union for Conservation of Nature claims that if no conservation measures are taken, few red knots might survive 10 years from now.

Using experience

To save the wetlands, the signatories to the memorandum will seek to enforce strict conservation rules throughout the new reserve. The WWF and the PI have long been working on bird habitat conservation in China and have experience working with local governments and domestic academic bodies.

In the next 5 years, the two NGOs will particularly help in the planning, application and establishment phases of the project.

Also, after the nature reserve is up and running, both will continue to offer support on its operation and management, and environmental education.

Wen Xianji, head of Mai Po Nature Reserve and the Regional Wetlands program with WWF Hongkong, told the Global Times that the Luan'nan project can learn a lot from the successful experience of the Mai Po project.

Located near the northwestern corner of Hong Kong, the Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay wetland was recognized as a "Wetland of International Importance" under the prestigious Ramsar Convention in 1995. The 1,500-hectare area also acts as a key way station and wintering site along the EAAF.

Since 1983, the WWF has been managing the 380-hectare Mai Po Nature Reserve - as large as 9,500 basketball courts - within the Inner Deep Bay.

Wen suggested the Luan'nan conservation project should be divided into sections as different bird breeds are attracted to different kinds of environments. He argued the management and monitoring of the various kinds of ecosystems the wetlands host will be more efficient if they are organized in this way.

Newspaper headline: Working on wetlands

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