Starting in February 2014, the Paulson Institute has worked with the National Forestry and Grassland Administration) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to develop the country’s first comprehensive national blueprint on coastal wetlands. The Blueprint assesses wetlands for their scientific and economic value and making policy recommendations for their conservation and management.
As a result of The Blueprint’s publication, the Chinese government has taken significant steps to protect and manage its natural coastline. Efforts include a ban on further coastal land reclamation and the addition of two of the most important coastal wetlands to the list of World Heritage sites. The Paulson Institute continues to work with partners to implement the Blueprint’s recommendations, including training, capacity building, site-based demonstrations, and public awareness.
Beginning in February 2014, the Paulson Institute has worked with the State Forestry Administration and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to develop the country’s first comprehensive national blueprint on coastal wetlands. The Blueprint, published in Beijing on October 2015, assessed wetland’s scientific and economic value and makes policy recommendations for their conservation and management.
The Coastal Wetlands Blueprint Project was a partnership between the Paulson Institute, the Wetlands Convention Management Office under the State Forestry Administration (now the National Forestry and Grassland Administration) and the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, kindly supported by the Lao Niu and Heren Foundations. The ultimate goal of the project was to provide the scientific and economic foundation, including a series of policy recommendations for strengthening the conservation and management of endangered coastal wetlands in China. In over 18 months, dozens of Chinese scientists and several international experts conducted field surveys, scientific analyses, and policy consultations. This work produced detailed technical reports, comprehensive policy recommendations, and public education materials. Specifically, the project focused on the following:
- To assess the current status of coastal wetland conservation in China;
- To identify significant threats to the critical coastal wetland ecosystems;
- To identify key habitats for migratory waterbirds along the East Asian–Australasian Flyway;
- To identify best practices on coastal wetland conservation and management;
- To put forward a strategy and action plan for coastal wetland conservation.
The coastal wetlands are the most threatened, but least protected ecosystems in China. Over the past 50 years from the 1950s to 2000s, 53% of temperate coastal ecosystems, 73% of mangroves and 80% of coral reefs have been lost mostly due to economic development. Today, only 24% of coastal wetlands are legally designated as protected areas, much lower than the mean wetland protection rate of 43.5% across China. Coastal wetlands in China’s most economically developed provinces/municipalities such as Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Tianjin, and Shandong are prime targets for economic development projects. This presents a severe short-term challenge to the protection of existing habitats and a longer-term threat to local populations.
Crossing the “red line.”
The primary driver for the reduced area of coastal wetlands in China is large-scale and rapid land reclamation. If China fulfills its current 2020 economic development plans within the coastal regions, more natural coastal wetlands will be lost. This crosses the “red line” of 800 million mu (53.3 million ha) of wetlands, which was defined by the government in 2015 as the minimum required to maintain China’s underlying ecological security. The “red line” provides an ecological baseline that ensures access to fishery products, clean water, and flood control.
Threatened migratory birds
Reclamation of China’s coastal wetlands, has led to the loss of crucial habitats for migratory waterbirds and is one of the primary drivers of a severe drop in many bird populations and threatens the survival of species along the East Asia-Australasia Flyway. Of the 27 species of endangered waterbirds in the world, 24 rely on China’s shrinking coastal wetlands as part of their biannual migration.
Lack of legal protection
No specific law regulates the use of wetlands in China at present. Wetlands are also categorized as “unused” land, which means that they often become targets of encroachment by local governments to fulfill agricultural land protection quotas and balance land used for urban and industrial expansion elsewhere. Provincial-level regulations on wetland conservation are not yet law in Tianjin, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Fujian, and Hainan.
Uncoordinated management systems
Multiple government agencies are responsible for managing wetlands. As a result, efforts to resolve conflicting mandates or plans or to prioritize between conservation and economic development needs are not well coordinated. Recently, the roles and responsibilities of relevant government agencies have been consolidated by the newly established Ministry of Natural Resources. Hopefully, this reform on the governance structure will improve the management efficiency and effectiveness of the wetland conservation.
American Case studies on the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound Bay, and Tijuana Estuary suggest that the United States can provide useful lessons and best practices to conserve coastal wetlands in China. These best practices include: strict legislation and enforcement on coastal wetland conservation; combining the protection of both wetlands and waterbirds; establishing wetland mitigation banking mechanism; granting conservation easements; conducting regular monitoring and scientific research; restoring natural wetlands to mitigate against climate change; effective coordination between stakeholders; adaptive habitat management targeting different species.
Key recommendations included:
Strengthen legislation and enforcement
There was a need to strengthen wetland legislation at the national level; revise the provisions of existing laws and regulations on coastal wetland conservation; enhance law enforcement and accountability, and develop an integrated management system on coastal wetlands.
Expand coastal wetland protected areas
Create new coastal wetland protected areas and expand the scope of some existing protected areas to fill the gaps in coastal wetland conservation.
Integrate wetlands conservation into economic development planning
Incorporate coastal wetland conservation into the overall plan of land use and economic development; implement pilot projects on integrated planning at coastal municipal/county levels; reassess and suspend the implementation of large-scale wetland conversion and sea reclamation projects in conservation priority areas.
Strengthen accountability of local governments
Establish a sound environmental performance appraisal and accountability system, including responsibility and punishment for officials whose behavior leads to the destruction of wetlands; conduct pilot projects on long-term wetland conservation financing mechanisms; demonstrate effective coastal wetland conservation and restoration models.
Enhance basic scientific research
Carry out regular monitoring and assessment of coastal wetland ecosystems to provide a robust scientific foundation for effective conservation and restoration; develop effective technical models that fit local contexts and apply best international practices.
Raise public awareness
Promote the Coastal Wetland Conservation Network to amplify its voice; organize activities to raise public awareness and involve the general public and non-governmental stakeholders, and participate in international cooperation and exchange on conservation of coastal wetlands and migratory waterbirds.