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Degradation Continues in China’s Mangroves


Mangrove Action Project

Professor Han (second from left) and MAP director Alfredo Quarto (far right) in a replanted mangrove. ©Jim Enright

Over 1,200 sites are designated by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands -- established in 1971 to conserve the planet's threatened wetlands -- as government-managed "Wetlands of International Importance."

China joined Ramsar in 1992 and designated 14 Ramsar sites in 2001, all managed by the State Forest Administration. But there is ample evidence of severe degradation in many of the wetlands. Major obstacles prevent monitoring and conservation of these vital coastal areas.

In 2003, Mangrove Action Project (MAP) staff visited the Zhanjiang Mangrove National Nature Reserve (ZMNNR), designated a Ramsar site in 2002. The total area of the ZMNNR is just over 50,000 acres, with about 31,000 acres of mangroves and almost 20,000 acres of intertidal mudflats. Most of this is not contiguous mangrove cover, but patches of mangroves scattered along 900 miles of the Leizhou Peninsula's coastline. The intervening mudflats serve as vital resting sites and feeding grounds for migratory shorebirds. The mangrove forests play an important role in preserving the health and integrity of these coastal zones.

In 1950, the mangrove area was estimated at 43,000 acres; it has since shrunk under heavy development pressure. According to Dr. Han Wei-Dong, associate professor of botany at Zhanjiang Ocean University, the recent rapid expansion of shrimp aquaculture within the Ramsar sites has caused much loss of mangrove forest cover, resulting in a decline of shorebird populations and near-shore fisheries. China will be expanding its lucrative shrimp production and export, and, due to low labor and materials costs, may soon become the world's top producer of shrimp.

As MAP staff approached one replanted mangrove stand, several women ran from the site, carrying baskets they had been illegally filling with shellfish from the "no-take zone." Such forays into replanted zones frequently damage the young trees. Unregulated harvest of molluscs, crustaceans, and sandworms deprive migratory birds of the food they need to complete their journeys. Migratory bird populations are in decline, mangrove forests are quickly diminishing, and community residents face an uncertain future with vastly reduced resources to rely on.

The loss of natural resources has increased pressure on what remains, as communities try to offset declining incomes from reduced wild fisheries. This dangerous trend threatens to overwhelm the remnant coastal wetlands of Leizhou Peninsula.

Soon after the ZMNNR was established in 1997, steps were taken toward the Ramsar nomination. ZMNNR became the site for implementing the Integrated Mangrove Management and Coastal Protection Project, cosponsored by China and the Netherlands. The five-year project, begun in 2001, aims to alleviate poverty, improve the socio-economic conditions for the coastal communities, and protect the region from typhoon damage.

Mangrove nurseries were established, and small-scale replanting efforts were undertaken. Unfortunately, these included planting non-native mangrove species, mainly in important mudflat zones. Experts predict that these trees will easily be ripped from their muddy moorings during the next major typhoon; shorter native mangrove species are better adapted to strong winds.

MAP will continue to monitor ZMNNR and make recommendations to officials in charge of managing mangrove forests, including:

Hire and train sufficient additional staff to monitor the Ramsar sites and strictly enforce prescribed management principles;

Halt further planting of non-native mangroves, and remove those already planted;

Take stronger action to protect migratory shorebirds and their coastal habitat;

Link the Ramsar sites more effectively so that information and skills can be shared;

Increase awareness of the destructive nature of industrial shrimp aquaculture;

Involve communities in awareness-raising workshops and improve their resource management skills.


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