Walking through the city’s flagship East Lake National Wetland Park in Central China’s Wuhan, water and sky merge in muted colors, punctuated by fir trees on which hundreds of rare species of pelican crowd “painting” the tree branch snowy white with their droppings. This would have been an unimaginable scene just a decade ago due to rampant industrial pollution and environmental overexploitation.
But now, migratory birds have made a comeback, bringing with them a resurgence of tourists as a result of Wuhan’s decade-long efforts to restore the city’s wetlands. The achievements of Wuhan’s urban wetland ecological protection are the epitome of China’s overall wisdom in wetland conservation.
Wetlands are commonly referred to as the “kidneys of the city” and a reservoir of biodiversity. China recently unveiled new plans for wetlands conservation during the 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (COP14) which commenced in Wuhan on November 5 and is expected to conclude on November 13.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China has recently drawn up a layout plan of national parks. Under the plan, China will designate a number of national parks, accounting for about 10 percent of the country’s land area. About 11 million hectares of wetlands will be incorporated in the national park system, with a focus on a series of developing wetland national parks
About 11 million hectares of wetlands will be incorporated in the national park system, with a focus on a series of developing wetland national parks, Xi said in an address delivered at the opening ceremony of COP14 via video on Saturday.
President Xi noted that historic achievements have been made in wetlands conservation in China, and China has put in place a protection system, and enacted a Wetlands Conservation Law. China’s long-term commitment to wetland conservation as well as tackling climate change and protecting biodiversity has won wide recognitions from attending international representatives.
China, once just a mere participant, has since grown to become not only a contributor but a world leader in global wetland conservation, presenting a feasible model and providing effective solutions to be emulated by many states worldwide, observers said.
They noted that China, guided by President Xi’s Thought on Ecological Civilization, has provided the world with wise solutions to many challenges faced by other developing countries in balancing economic development and urbanization with rapid economic expansion and wetland conservation. Such lessons have been key to China’s success in its transition to a greener economy.
China’s firm commitment
China joined the Ramsar Convention – an intergovernmental agreement dedicated to the conservation and rational use of wetland ecosystems – in 1992.
Since then, China has launched a legal framework and series of policies for wetlands conservation. In the last decade alone, China has cultivated or restored more than 800,000 hectares of wetlands, the Global Times learned from the COP14. Currently, China has 64 sites designated as “Wetlands of International Importance” (Ramsar Sites) and its wetland area ranks the first in Asia and fourth in the world covering an area of 56.35 million hectares.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of China’s accession to the Ramsar Convention. China leads the world in having the most international wetland cities, being home to 13 among all 43 such cities globally.
With four percent of the world’s wetlands, China has the herculean task of meeting the ecological, productional, living, and cultural needs of one-fifth of the world’s population.
Financial investment and the employment of tougher legal measures have helped bolster such efforts. According to the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, the central government allocated 16.9 billion yuan ($2.5 billion) to wetland conservation and undertook over 3,400 protection projects in the last decade, the Xinhua News Agency reported. The country’s first dedicated law on wetland protection took effect in June.
Wuhan, a pioneer in smart protection
Wuhan, home to 165 rivers and 166 lakes, and with about 162,000 hectares of wetlands, ranks among the top three inland cities worldwide in wetland resources.
The 3,367-hectare East Lake National Wetland Park is the city’s calling card, showcasing local efforts and achievements in wetland protection in Wuhan – turning sewage, weeds, and heavily polluted water bodies into clear fish ponds.
To treasure this city’s “kidneys,” local authorities in Wuhan once halted all potential lake-contaminating sewage intake and planted contamination-absorbing aquatic plants which helped create a 220-hectare “underwater forest,” leaving a paradise behind for aquatic birds and a scenic spot for local residents.
Wuhan has also built a 101.98-kilometer-long greenway around the East Lake, which aims to improve the urban public space, and is open to visitors day and night. It helps safeguard against lake encroachment by securing the shorelines.
The Chenhu Lake Wetland Nature Reserve, the first “wetland of international importance” in Wuhan, is another example of local innovation in using smart facilities to upgrade wetland management.
Over 20,000 migratory birds, which were conspicuously absent in previous decades due to ecological destruction, made a majestic return to the 116-square-km wetlands this summer.
The reserve’s management team told the Global Times that the Wuhan local government passed a slew of legislative policies forbidding ecologically destructive acts in the 2000s, directly helping reverse the trend.
Since 2003, the local government has allocated 15 million yuan annually to compensate individuals and institutions impacted by wetland reserve expansion and protection efforts. Rewards and penalties also incentivize wetland protection awareness.
In order to protect more than 20 wetlands and lakes, a 6km detour was created during the construction of one of Wuhan’s main traffic beltways.
During a visit to the Chenhu Lake reserve, the Global Times reporter was impressed by the intelligent digital platforms monitoring species and climate indicators employed by the reserve which rapidly and accurately record changes in the ecological environment such as in wetland resources, biodiversity, wetland carbon sinks, and zoonotic epidemics.
The smart system uses high-definition cameras to periodically monitor key areas, capturing changes in ecosystems and identifying new species with 95 percent accuracy. The system is also a pioneering technology in China, which represents technological innovation in Wuhan, Feng Jiang, a senior engineer with the reserve administration, told the Global Times.
“We have also set up three conservation stations in the reserve with 33 conservation staff members wearing smart mobile devices while carrying out dynamic monitoring and transmitting of data back to help identify and study new species, and assess the range of visitor flows these species can withstand,” said Feng.
Additionally, a 24-hour patrol system has been implemented in the entire reserve to rapidly detect and stop the destruction of wetland resources. A wildlife rescue center has also been established to help provide support for wild animals, Feng said.