Beach covered in red salt-marsh
Panjin Red Beach on China’s north coast is the largest wetland reserve in the world. Photo ©Shutterstock

China cracks down on coastal land reclamation

News has come through that should have international shorebird researchers and conservationists jumping for joy – albeit guardedly.

The New China News Agency (Xinhua) reported on January 17 that the Chinese Government had introduced tough new regulations on land reclamation along the country’s coastline.

The agency says Beijing is vowing to demolish buildings on illegally reclaimed land and will stop approving general reclamation projects. This is tremendously important for the huge flocks of migratory shorebirds threatened by recent habitat loss on a grand scale.

Demolish structures

The State Oceanic Administration (SOA) says it will demolish structures, shut down all illegally reclaimed land and illegally established waste discharge outlets that damage the marine environment.

SOA deputy director Lin Shanqing said reclamation projects that did not concern the national economy and people’s livelihoods would not be approved in future.

“Reclamation projects that have been approved but have not started and do not comply with the current policy will all be stopped,” he told Xinhua.  Annual land reclamation quota to provinces would also cease.

Rare spoon-billed sandpiper
The rare spoon-billed sandpiper – China decision may save it. Photo ©Shutterstock

Key fuelling station

“Using reclaimed land for commercial real estate development is prohibited and all reclamation activities in the Bohai Sea area [a key ‘fuelling station’ for shorebirds flying to and from northern hemisphere nesting sites] will be banned,” Lin says

Nearly 160,000 ha of ‘maritime’ land have been legally approved for reclamation in China since 2002.

For international shorebird researchers and wildlife conservationists who have campaigned long and hard to protect nearly 500 species of migratory birds that rely on Yellow Sea coastal habitats in China and South Korea, this news is huge.

“I’ve never heard of anything quite so monumental,” Nicola Crockford of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, based in Sandy, UK told Science.

Government got message

And Jing Li of Shanghai-based non-profit Saving the Spoon-Billed Sandpiper group says, “The message has reached the central government.” (The spoon-billed sandpiper is critically endangered, with only about 220 breeding pairs left. Their unique bill has evolved so they can feed more efficiently on small mud-loving crustaceans.)

Renowned ecologist and migratory wader expert Theunis Piersma describes the decision as, “A true sea change in the official political attitudes to the very large and internationally shared biodiversity values of the shorelines of China.”

Piersma is professor of global flyway ecology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and a regular visitor at the Broome Bird Observatory in Western Australia.

Keep on tracking

He says research (by members of the Global Flyway Network) will continue, using satellite tracking to show which habitats are most important, and to track progress in reserves. “We need to keep a close eye on the development of the population and see whether the recoveries actually will take place following [this] political change,” he said.

However, Li sounded a note of warning – that the new regulation focuses on stopping reclamation but not directly on conserving biodiversity. He also suspects there will be strong opposition from local governments that rely on coastal development for revenue.

©Natural Images 2018

Great knot with leg flags and transmitter
Great knot festooned with leg flags, plus satellite transmitter will provide vital information. Photo ©Tony Neilson
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©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.

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