For millennia, the Chinese people have been more concerned with poverty-alleviation (survival!) and wealth creation, to the detriment of their environment. But now, some of the world’s most profound environmental changes are under way in China.
The country’s large population, rapid economic development and the demand for natural resources, are putting huge pressure on the marine environment (the particular focus of this article): many areas are heavily polluted by agriculture, industry, and effects from coastal cities. Over-fishing has caused the decline, collapse or even the regional extinction of many species. This has severe social implications in a developing country.
Since the 1950s, 45% of China’s mangrove forest cover has been lost, which has caused a decline in regional biodiversity – including benthic (sea-bottom-living) animals, birds and fishes.
Mangrove forests are unique and diverse ecosystems:
- They protect sea grasses and coral reefs by retaining sediment and nutrients from the surrounding environment;
- They support unique biological diversity (including several endangered reptiles, birds and mammals);
- They protect land from storm and small tsunami damage, and
- They provide local communities with fish, construction material and fuel.
Unfortunately, this is not always reflected in the value people place on them.
In China, mangroves still face many threats, including wastewater discharge, oil pollution, biological invasion and insect outbreak. But efforts to reduce these threats are being undertaken and in the last few decades rapid progress has been made. Up to 2009, 34 mangrove nature reserves have been established and these cover 80% of the total area of mangroves in China. This is a significant achievement.
Deborah Robertson, one of the NZCFS Youth Friendship Ambassadors in 2014, spent 6 weeks from late June to early August, in two areas of mangrove forest in and near Xiamen, Fujian Province. [Deborah had previously studied marine conservation at Victoria University, Wellington NZ, and also spent 3 months in Zanzibar, E. Africa, interviewing women and girls there to study gender equality.]
Deborah set out to study and understand the people’s attitude to mangrove forests in Fu Gong Village, adjacent to Fujiang Jiulongjiangkou Provincial Reserve, and at Yundang Lake within Xiamen City, where new mangroves have been planted. (For a location map, click HERE). She got seventy Fujian Province residents to complete a questionnaire.
Her study found:
- There is general awareness of mangrove forest services, and major threats to them, although Fu Gong residents (living next to the reserve) have a higher level of environmental knowledge.
- 96% of people surveyed believe all mangrove forests should be protected, and mixed results were received on whether limited/sustainable use should be allowed.
- Most people think that more mangrove trees should be planted.
Deborah also got involved with a group of young people of the China Mangrove Conservation Network who plant mangroves along the southern coast of China, to re-establish forests. (In 2013, 1100 China Mangrove Conservation Network volunteers planted almost 180,000 mangrove plants and 90 people undertook volunteer environmental monitoring in the Xiamen area).
Deborah had also planned to do similar work in Hainan. However, a very violent storm during her stay meant that flights were cancelled and infrastructure affected, making Deborah’s contacts too busy with the affects of the storm.
Strict protocols for foreigners also meant that she was unable to visit some nature reserves, but she did build up good relationships with NGO workers and university and scientific staff. All in all, she completed the task that she set out to do and learned a lot about the on-going problem of mangrove preservation in China.
During her time in China, Deborah also had the pleasure of visiting a number of mangrove conservation projects and a fishing village in Hong Kong, Taio O (see photo, above). She was kindly hosted by Xiamen University, the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, and the Bureau of Zhanjiang Mangrove National Nature Reserve. She also spent 3 days at the Daya Bay Marine Biology Research Station.
Deborah talked to many of her contacts in China about New Zealand, which many knew very little about. They were often particularly interested in Maori people and culture. Others were interested in how New Zealand’s marine environment is managed. Deborah had gone prepared and she showed her contacts a Powerpoint presentation that covered many of the above points. For her Powerpoint presentation, click HERE.
Deborah acknowledges the help she received from volunteer interpreters from Xiamen University, from the China Mangrove Conservation Network and also from the Confucius Institutes in Wellington and Xiamen.
She also appreciates very much the funding from the Simon Deng Li Fund – Young Ambassadors to China Project.
For Deborah’s full report, “China’s Mangrove Forests: Values, Knowledge and Attitudes to Conservation“, on the Xiamen mangrove forests, please click HERE.
Deborah has fulfilled the reporting criterion required as a condition of receiving NZCFS Simon Deng Li funding.
Deborah is interested in supporting young Chinese women who are passionate about conservation. She would like to set up an internship programme in NZ that offers the opportunity to gain some NZ experience, skills and confidence. She’d also like to extend the opportunity she’s had to other New Zealanders interested in building relationships and understanding China’s environment, by organising an environmental study tour to China. Please e-mail Deborah if you are interested: [email protected].