Jan 18

Boundaries of a crucial freshwater reserve for rare and economically important species in the Yangtze River are redrawn by developers of a hydroelectric plant.

The 400 kilometre long Upper Yangtze Rare and Endemic Fish Nature Reserve is the last refuge for many of China’s rarest and most economically important wild fish. But conservationists warned today that it is just days before the reserve is trimmed, dammed and ruinously diminished, unless public support is secured.

Photo of a baiji at water surface

After surveys in 2006 recorded no sightings, the baiji or Yangtze river dolphin is now believed to be extinct.

A haven for rare species

This reserve is supposed to be a haven for species threatened by the Three Gorges dam, the world’s biggest hydroelectric plant.

This is the last hold-out for much of China’s freshwater biodiversity. It is a rare situation when one project can do so much damage. Part of the problem is that unlike pandas, snub-nosed monkeys or Tibetan antelopes, most people have not heard of or seen the fish affected,” said Ma Jun of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, one of the country’s leading green campaign groups.

Downstream, the combination of dams, pollution, overfishing and river traffic has decimated fish stocks, wiped out at least one species – the baiji, and left others like the giant Yangtze sturgeon, and the finless porpoise Critically Endangered.

Photo of a finless porpoise

The Yangtze finless porpoise, a subspecies found only in the Yangtze River, is classified as Critically Endangered due to a suite of threats, including bycatch and pollution, degrading its habitat.

Unease about excess dam-building

The state had promised to safeguard the reserve, and even Premier Wen Jiabao has expressed unease about the impact of excess dam-building on environmentally important areas. But the developers appear to have gained the upper hand, as last week authorities moved quietly to redraw the boundaries of the reserve so that it would no longer encompass the area of the proposed dam, leaving less than 10 days for public discussion.

Development is threatening important fish stocks and with fewer wild fish to bolster farm stocks, environmental experts say China is taking a risk with a primary source of protein.

This is economically important. We eat a lot of these fish. We need to help people realise its important to protect fish reserves and not just tap the power of the river. If we lose this reserve, the wild population will almost be wiped out.” Guo Qiaoyu, Yangtze River project manager at The Nature Conservancy.

To read more on this issue, see the Guardian article.

Watch a video on the Yangtze sturgeon on ARKive.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

  • Maeve (January 18th, 2011 at 2:40 pm):

    OMG,save those poor animals. I like love animals and fish! What is there problem, why can’t they build a dam some where else!!!!! :(