Saving the Yancheng Coastal Wetlands

When we think of the People’s Republic of China, many images come to mind, but probably not wetlands. However, the northern coast of China is home to a large expanse of wetlands. Facing the Yellow Sea and near to Nanjing and Shanghai you will find 580 kilometers of coastline containing approximately half a million hectares of stunning wetlands. The Yancheng Coastal Wetlands, located within the Yancheng province, is home to an incredible fusion of ecosystems. It is teeming with a wide variety of endangered mammals and birds, such as the milu deer and red-crowned crane, living in salt marshes, intertidal mudflats, and creeks.

A Birders’ Paradise

The Yangcheng Coastal Wetlands is home to 379 different species of birds, 590 breeds of insects, 600 different varieties of vegetation and 281 categories of shellfish. It has become one of the premier places for birders, following the 1992 construction of the Nation Rare Birds Nature Reserve. More than 3 million birds fly through Yancheng, most notable being the red-crowned cranes. Hundreds of them migrate to the Yancheng Nature Reserve every winter, with 500,000 staying to camp out for the winter in the Yancheng wetlands.

The Red Crowned Cranes of the Yancheng Wetlands

The Red Crowned Cranes of the Yancheng Wetlands

Wetlands Impact Every Facet of Life

Wetlands serve a number of important functions, in addition to maintaining biodiversity in the environment. They are an important source of safe fish, shellfish, vegetables and other foods for local populations. Trees growing in wetlands can be used for construction, fuels and textiles. A healthy wetlands and ecosystem provides another channel for economic development. Nature preserves and wetlands draw thousands of domestic and international tourists who come on eco-tours to experience these natural wonders.

Wetlands also stand as the last line of defense for fragile coastlines. For instance, the mudflats of the Yancheng Coastal Wetlands acts as a buffer to absorb energy from the waves of the Yellow Sea that would otherwise pound the shoreline, leading to significant erosion. The natural vegetation of the wetlands protects the coastline and residential infrastructure from tsunamis and storm surges, which are not infrequent occurrences in China. The wetlands also serve as a natural cleaner of polluted water flowing from from the municipality of Yancheng’s industrial sector and growing residential areas.

Protecting the Yancheng Coastal Wetlands

China’s Yancheng Coastal wetlands, like wetlands throughout the world, is in conflict with the rapidly increasing development of fish farms and other commercial uses of the same limited water resources. Increased interest in coastal living has resulted in more residential development, not only grabbing precious wetlands real estate, but negatively impacting wetlands wildlife. In fact, since the 1980s, wetlands wildlife has diminished in numbers by more than half, making initiatives such as the Jiangsu Yancheng Wetlands Protection project of critical importance. Lower income and disadvantaged populations rely upon wetlands for fishing and harvesting of foods that can be sold. If the wetlands ecosystems are not functioning properly, their ability to earn a decent wage will be severely impacted.

For these reasons the Jiangsu Yancheng Wetlands Protection project was initiated. In 2011, the Asian Development Bank gave a loan of $36.9 million to restore 3,600 hectares of wetlands and 1,000 hectares of coastal forests. Through the efforts of the Chinese government, financial institutions, political activists and environmental donors, the Yancheng Coastal wetlands have a much brighter future.