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Reclaiming Land for Nature
Honghu Lake's 10-year emergent protection campaign is bringing back biodiversity
By Liu Ting | NO. 48 NOVEMBER 26, 2015


Environmentally friendly fishing industry is developed in Honghu Lake wetland natural reserve (LIU TING)

Located in central China's Hubei Province, Honghu Lake is the country's seventh largest freshwater lake, serving as an important ecological protective screen for the Jianghan Plain. Covering an area of 41,412 hectares, the reserve has abundant natural resources. As a vital wetland in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, Honghu Lake is also a habitat for numerous birds, serving as an essential region protecting biodiversity and the genetic diversity of wetlands.

That diversity however had been threatened by aquaculture, which polluted the lake starting in the 1980s. "Massive laying of purse nets and the reclamation of land from lakes had reduced the area of the lake, causing serious water pollution, and brought the decline of fish and bird resources," said Shi Changhao, Deputy Director of the Administration Bureau of Honghu Lake Wetland Natural Reserve.

To protect the ecological environment and control the water pollution, the Hubei Provincial Government decided in November 2004 to start an emergent protection campaign. After 10 years of efforts to remove purse nets, restore vegetation and establish the natural reserve administration bureau, the ecological environment around Honghu Lake has improved remarkably.

The vegetation coverage rate has recovered to the level in the mid-1990s. The good ecological environment attracts more than 10,000 migratory birds in summer. "Now the variety of plants has increased from 30 to 38, and the vegetation coverage recovered from less than 30 percent to more than 85 percent," Shi added.

The bureau highlighted several areas of the nature reserve whose restoration has been integral to the campaign's success. Covering an area of 1,000 hectares, the Jintanhu Lake vegetation restoration area is the second demonstration area in the Honghu Lake reserve for plant renewal and reestablishment, which mainly protects aquatic plants and their ecosystems. Hydrophytes, emerged plants, floating-leaf plants and submerged plants have formed a complete wetland vegetation system in this area.

Shi noted that the local lotus variety is an old strain of over 1,000 years without genetic modification or natural hybridization. This specific type of lotus was introduced by the famous Chinese scholar Ji Xianlin and was planted at Peking University.

In the 1950s and 1960s, many fishermen moved from east China's Jiangsu, Shandong, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces to Honghu Lake. Living in the natural reserve, these fishermen occupy a large area of wetland and were discharging waste directly to the lake, seriously threatening the ecological environment of the natural reserve.

Wang Yunjun's grandfather and father were both fishermen who moved from Zhejiang to this area. Like the other 1,500 fishing households, Wang and his family live in a concrete ship and own another fishing boat. Around the concrete ship is the 1.33 hectares of water area enclosed with bamboo, which is the main source of income for Wang's family.

When the Hubei Provincial Government started the campaign to improve the aquaculture environment on Honghu Lake in 2005, Wang and the other fishermen witnessed the removal of the purse nets. Then each household had been designated to a new water area of 1.33 hectares for aquaculture. Wang said with this policy, the aquaculture areas are more concentrated, which helps reduce pollution and facilitates government administration.

But polluted water is not the only concern for these nomadic people. Low incomes, inconvenient transportation as well as poor education and medical facilities all contribute to the economic stagnation of generations of families. As a result, many local fishermen eagerly hope to settle onshore. Wang sends his children to schools onshore, hoping education can change their lives.

"I also hope to live onshore as soon as possible, but worry how we can make a living after moving," Wang told Beijing Review . "We used to make a living by fishing, so we were not well educated. After leaving the ship, we may have no means of livelihood."

The provincial government responded to the concerns, pledging to help the fisherman make the transition smoothly. "Now Hubei Provincial Government, taking into consideration the fishermen's will and related laws and regulations, is making plans to settle the fishermen onshore," said Zhu Junhua, Director of the Administration Bureau of Honghu Lake Wetland Natural Reserve. "The government will build or purchase houses for them, offer training courses, and develop environmentally friendly fishing and ecotourism industries in order to ensure the fishermen's livelihood and stimulate the local economy."

Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell

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