A genuine good news story from the Yellow Sea
China gets more than its share of criticism on environmental issues – and rightly so. But it can also be associated with truly inspirational initiatives.
One such piece of vitally important leadership is the republic’s recent offer of protection for threatened Yellow Sea wetlands under its jurisdiction.
Migratory wading birds that ‘winter’ in the southern hemisphere, particularly Australia and New Zealand, depend on there being a rich supply of food in the tidal mudflats along the Yellow Sea coast from South Korea to China.
These ‘refuelling stations’ enable the birds to complete round trips of more than 20,000 km, to and from their Arctic breeding grounds.
Massive wetland loss
But massive wetland reclamation for industrial development along the Chinese and South Korean coasts has destroyed two-thirds of vital wader feeding grounds. International shorebird populations have crashed, with 17 of the 36 species using the East Asia-Australasian Flyway threatened by extinction.
Australian Birdlife magazine reported in September that the Word Heritage Committee’s recent listing of China’s nomination for World Heritage status of the Bohai Bay (Tiaozini) ecosystem was ‘game-changing news’.
Although the listing offers protection by law under international treaty, there is still a long way to go in the quest to protect remaining Yellow Sea feeding grounds.
14 sites nominated
In 2017, China actually nominated 14 sites for World Heritage status, including the Tiaozini site where 80 percent of the world’s spotted greenshanks and 40 percent of all spoonbill sandpipers feed during migration.
While the broad-based application was being processed by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN), China banned further ‘business-related’ reclamation along its Yellow Sea mudflats.
Pleading the case
Incredibly, the IUCN deferred all 14 applications on technical grounds – prompting immediate reaction from 60-plus international conservation organisations pleading the China case.
As a result, the 43rd UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting unanimously approved inscription of the Tiaozini shoals.
Attention is now focused on getting WH status for the other 13 sites. Birdlife International says China’s example in this case is ‘inspiring’. What a shame the same can’t be said for South Korea, which continues to destroy its coastal wetlands.
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