Poyang Lake Pilot Project
Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province—though not a coastal wetland—is the largest freshwater lake in China and the most important wintering habitat for huge populations of water birds in the East Asia Australian Flyway (EAAF). Bird species inhabiting the lake include almost the entire global population of the critically endangered Siberian Crane, most of the remaining endangered Oriental Storks and five species of wild geese. We worked with the International Crane Foundation, the Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve and other partners to pilot adaptive management practices that take into account both the needs of local communities and birds.
The threat: The Poyang wetlands face diverse threats from impacts of the Three Gorges Dam, ten thousand dams on the five rivers feeding into Poyang Lake, sand dredging, declining water quality, encroachment around shallow edges, and more frequent droughts and floods.
This project focused on water management for the nine sub lakes within Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve in the northwest corner of the lake, which contains the most valuable waterbird habitat, especially for cranes. The first year of this project developed a water management and monitoring plan that can serve as a model for other parts of the lake and for the lake basin as a whole. The second year began implementation of recommended management and monitoring measures.
Poyang Lake Bird Species
Oriental Stork 东方白鹳
Endangered: Fewer than 2,500 remaining
Despite its resemblance to the European white stork, the Oriental Stork is distinguished by its whitish iris, black bill, and red skin around its eye. Typically about 110-150 cm tall, the Oriental Stork is a solitary bird except during the breeding season. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the species has an Endangered threat status because its already limited population has been declining rapidly, with no signs of slowing in the future. The current Oriental Stork population is estimated to be between 1,000-2,499 mature individuals.
Range & Migration
The Oriental Stork is known to breed primarily in the Amur and Ussuri basins along the border of mainland China and Russia. During the wintering season, the Oriental Stork travels to southern China and the lower Yangtze River basin, with unstable populations recorded at Poyang Lake. However, the Oriental Stork has also been spotted in parts of Bangladesh, India, North Korea, South Korea, Burma, Japan, and the Philippines during the wintering season. In addition, the Oriental Stork has been spotted as far as eastern Mongolia during the summer.
The Oriental Stork faces a variety of dangers, but agricultural development has been a particularly critical threat to the species’ survival. Wetland drainage, deforestation and land reclamation for agricultural purposes have collectively reduced the Oriental Stork’s habitat areas, disturbing the species’ ecosystems and eliminating certain food sources. In Russia, spring fires have destroyed many of the tall trees used for nesting by the Oriental Stork during the breeding season, thwarting the species’ reproductive success. In China, overfishing is a common problem that eliminates many of the Oriental Stork’s food sources. Throughout the Oriental Stork’s migratory routes, the species is also threatened by the hunting and collecting practices used in Russia and China to place the birds in zoos.
White-naped Crane 白枕鹤
Vulnerable: Fewer than 6,500 remaining
With slate-grey plumage, pinkish legs, a white neck, and eyes encircled by red skin, the White-naped Crane is a large bird that is typically about 125 cm in length. Because the White-naped Crane is currently undergoing a rapid population decline prompted by the loss of wetlands, the species’ International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat status is categorized as Vulnerable. The White-naped Crane’s current population is estimated to be between 5,500-6,500 individuals.
Range & Migration
The White-naped Crane’s breeding sites cover the Amur and Ussuri basins along the Sino-Russian border, the border between Russia, Mongolia, and China, as well as on the Songnen and Sanjiang plains in China. During the migratory season, the White-naped Crane travels along the Songnen Plain and the Gulf of Bohai to reach its wintering sites in the demilitarized zone between South Korea and North Korea, southern Kyushu in Japan, and the Yangtze basin in China (mainly at Poyang Lake).
The population decline of the White-naped Crane has been caused by a variety of factors, but the main threats to the species’ survival stems from increasing human demand for water sources and from concerted agricultural expansion efforts. Agricultural development has not only contributed to the loss of overall wetland areas, but has also polluted the remaining wetland areas through the use of pesticides and other chemicals. Livestock grazing from agricultural efforts, as well as the prevalence of steppe fires, have further decreased the number of suitable habitats for the White-naped Crane. Although the Three Gorges Dam has already caused droughts and other ecological imbalances, further dam construction and other water development projects in China are expected to continue, and the planned construction of the Poyang Lake Dam is highly concerning for the survival of the White-naped Crane.
Hooded Crane 白头鹤
Vulnerable: Fewer than 10,000 remaining
One of the smallest cranes, the Hooded Crane has a dark grey body, as well as a white head and upper neck. The Hooded Crane’s most distinguishing feature is the bald, red crown that appears on adult individuals, with black bristles growing from it. Because the number of wintering sites for the Hooded Crane is limited to fewer than ten, and because most of these sites are experiencing population declines that are expected to continue, the Hooded Crane’s International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat status is categorized as Vulnerable. The Hooded Crane’s current population is estimated to be between 2,500-9,999 mature individuals.
Range & Migration
The Hooded Crane breeds primarily in southwestern and south-central Siberia, but the species is also thought to breed in Mongolia and in the region of Heilongjiang, China. During the migratory season, the Hooded Crane travels to its wintering sites in Japan, China, and South Korea. More than 80% of the population winters in Izumi of southern Japan, as an artificial feeding station funded by the Japanese government has existed since the 1950s. Of the estimated 1,050-1,150 birds wintering in China, approximately 300-400 travel to Poyang Lake.
Reclamation for development and dam construction are the two primary threats that have contributed to severe wetland degradation and loss at the Hooded Crane’s wintering sites in South Korea and China. Wetland drainage has destroyed many of the Hooded Crane’s habitats, and this situation has been further exacerbated by the conversion of paddy fields into cotton fields, especially in China. A proposed dam at the outlet of Poyang Lake poses a potential threat to one of the Hooded Crane’s wintering sites. More minor threats include pollution, over-fishing, hunting, and fires. In addition, the Hooded Crane population in Izumi, Japan, estimated to be approximately 8,000, is considered to be high-risk, as the concentrated presence of 80% of the species’ population in one place could be easily eliminated by disease.
Swan Goose 鸿雁
Vulnerable: Between 60,000-80,000 remaining
Distinguished by its bi-colored neck, dark brown on the back and light cream on the front, the Swan Goose also has a white band across its forehead. The Swan Goose makes a prolonged ‘honk’ alarm call, and is typically about 81-94 cm long. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the species has a Vulnerable threat status because it is experiencing rapid population decline and low reproductive success. Previously thought to be quite common, the Swan Goose species experienced considerable decline during the 19th century and early 20th century. The current Swan Goose population is estimated to be between 60,000-80,000 individuals.
Range & Migration
The breeding sites of the Swan Goose are located in Mongolia, northeast China, and eastern Russia. During the migratory season, the Swan Goose travels to its wintering sites in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, along the east Chinese coast and at Poyang Lake. However, in recent years, the Swan Goose’s wintering range has narrowed mainly to China, with a high concentration of the species flocking to Poyang Lake, as ecological disturbance from various sources impacts many of the species’ former wintering sites. These clusters of concentrated Swan Goose populations at fewer wintering sites endanger the species even further, since they become more vulnerable to disease, pollution, hunting, and other serious risks.
In Russia, drainage of breeding habitats and hunting have caused high Swan Goose mortality rates. In China and Mongolia, these same threats, coupled with the negative impacts of agricultural development on wetlands, have further contributed to the Swan Goose population decline. Agricultural development efforts in these areas have led to massive wetland destruction and pollution, consequently destroying many Swan Goose habitats and reducing feeding opportunities. As the notion that waterfowl is a useful food source begins to supplant traditional attitudes that discouraged waterfowl hunting, the Swan Goose has been put at greater risk for hunting, as well as egg collection, throughout China and Mongolia.
Balancing global biodiversity values with the economic needs of fishermen, this project has outlined twelve primary goals to improve the current situation in Poyang Lake.
- Long-term monitoring: We have completed field sampling and observations on waterbirds, water levels, and turbidity at Dahu Chi, Sha Hu, Meixi Hu and Sixia Hu.
- Swan Goose Study: We have determined the species’ distribution, number, movement and habitat.
- Multi-disciplinary research at Sha Hu: We have completed field sampling and observation on zooplankton, benthos, fish, Vallisneria tubers, and waterbirds at Sha Hu.
- Water Management and Monitoring Plan: We maintained regular communication with stakeholders—including three forums—and obtained comments and recommendations for revising the plan, especially from Jiangxi Forestry Department to secure its support for the plan.
- Expert review: Comments received from experts were incorporated into the final revision of the plan.
- Community engagement: Completed a survey with villagers and local government for evaluating and implementation of the plan in Changhu Chi.
- White-naped Crane Tracking: Our tracking team checked key locations of marked White-naped Cranes throughout the winter. Once the White-naped Cranes started their spring migration in 2015, our tracking team checked their spring staging and stop-over sites along the flyway.
- Basin-wide waterbird survey: Conducted two basin-wide surveys on waterbirds, one in December 2014 covering all waterbirds and the other in January 2015 covering large waterbirds.
- Educational calendar: Message includes the importance of wetlands and sub lake management for wildlife conservation and well-being of local communities. 7,000 print copies will be distributed by the end of 2015.
- Database development: the database for the long-term monitoring of four sub lakes has been converted into a web-based, bi-lingual format. The new database will allow access and updates by partners in both countries.