[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Drought threatens the Yangtze River


(CRI English)

Drought Threatens Eco-environment along Yangtze River
2011-06-02 19:25:30 Xinhua Web Editor: Liu

The lingering drought continues to wreak havoc along the Yangtze, raising concerns about the ecological security in the areas along China's longest river.

"I've never seen it this bad. The waterweeds and fish are all dried dead," says Zhang Yueming, a 53-year-old farmer from Sushui County in Jiangsu Province.

Behind him is a large expanse of muddy water dotted with dying fish and clams. The enclosed crab-breeding farms are parched and cracked as a result of the relentless dry spell that is gripping central and eastern China. At the banks of the Shijiu Lake, fishing gear lies unattended.

The 207-square-kilometer lake is located at the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The depth of the lake is usually around 10 meters, but this year, the lake is barely one meter deep.

This scene is not untypical in the regions affected by the drought.

"The meteorological drought has developed into hydrological drought and ecological drought, and farming and fishing is severely affected," says Jiang Jiahu, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

Rainfall along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze has been at its lowest since 1951, down 40 percent to 60 percent from the average level, according to statistics from the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

Jiang said if the drought continues, the natural environment along the Yangtze River will be badly hurt.

Traditionally praised as the "land of fish and rice," the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River are well suited for farming and fishing.

However, hasty development in the regions has left the ecological balance in a fragile state.

In recent years, with the quickened pace of industrialization and urbanization, rice paddies have given way to buildings, and rivers are filled to provide space to factories. The land is becoming too frail to stand to the test of the drought.

Honghu Lake, an important ecological site that is listed by the World Wildlife Fund, has also been hit by the drought. The lake area is home to 494 kinds of plants and 774 kinds of animals.

"The drought has done considerable damage to the ecological environment of the Honghu Lake," says Zeng Xiaodong, head of the management office of the Honghu marshland.

"Right now it is the spawning season for fishes and they need shallow waters, but the lake is running dry and their spawning is greatly affected," he says.

Without fishes to hunt, birds also have fled the areas.

"As the fish have left, the birds only made a short stay here and then flew away," Zhang Shengyuan, a bird watcher in the Honghu areas, says.

At this time of the year, the lake is usually swarmed with all kinds of birds, but now only a few showed up this year, according to Zhang

Wang Xixin, mayor of Luoshan County where the lake is located, says even if the lake is pumped with water immediately, the eco-environment would not recover quickly.

Liu Guihua, a researcher with Wuhan botanical garden based in the provincial capital of central China's Hubei, says that the continuing drought might lead to the extinction of the germplasm resources of water plants in the region.

China's rare animal, the finless porpoise, is also in a tough situation for survival.

"The receding waters narrowed their activity areas. If they were washed ashore, they can't get back," says Wang Ding, a researcher with the CAS.

Though the drought will not cause large-scale extinctions of plant and animal species, their numbers will decrease significantly, Jiang Jiahu warns.

To ease the negative impact of the drought, experts say that the Chinese government should attach more importance to the preservation of forest and soil along the Yangtze River and carefully monitor and control the damage brought by industrial and agricultural activities on the eco-environment.

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