Mar. 23, 2023

Yellow River Decade (1) The wetland in Yellow River Delta

Yellow River Decade (1) 

The wetland in Yellow River Delta

Reporters:  Lina Wang,Yongchen Wang

At 7 am on August 12th, the research team of “Yellow River Decade-Ecological Investigation 2010”, initiated by the Green Earth, take off for their first stop, Dongying Yellow River Delta. Its estuaries and the ancient watercourse of Yellow River, with a total area of 153,000 hectares, is the most expansive, most complete and the youngest wetland ecosystem in world’s warm-temperate district. And it is one of the 13 wetlands under international key protection in the world. And this time, we will go upstream and record from here the current situation of the Yellow River, section by section.

“Yellow River Decade” taking off

Right after the bus just set off, Wang Yongchen announced the commencement of first class in the first year of the Yellow River Decade project. It was a convention in China Green News. With the help of the experts, participants can understand environmental issues more comprehensively and deeply, penetrating the phenomenon into the fact. The media, NGOs and volunteers can express their ideas more effectively. Surely in such a classroom in bus, everyone is a student and teacher, sharing his/her own opinions in different areas of knowledge and information with each other.

The classroom in a Bus

A 14-year-old volunteer

Zhao Lianshi from the China Association for Scientific Expedition said that the Yellow River was the China’s second largest river and the symbol of China. The four tribes of ancient China gathered around here and gradually integrated with each other, and they are now called collectively as Huaxia nations by the international community. All these four ancient civilizations depended on river and farming, but why could Chinese people live and multiply for five thousand years? It is because of the Yellow River. So it is called the mother river.

The Red Carpet

Residents near the Yellow River


However, it seems that the mother river had never been treated well. You Lianyuan, The professor from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources of the Chinese Academy of Science, said that during the period of agricultural civilization, people deforested in the midstream of Yellow River, and frequently changed the watercourse because large mounts of sand were discharged into the river. During the period of industrial civilization, coal mining, water pollution and the abuse of water resources and other various courses had put the river in danger, and nowadays, drought and desertification have become more and more severe due to climate change in the upstream region. In Xingxiuhai in the source of the Yellow River, many small seas have disappeared. Sections from upstream to downstream throughout the Yellow River have different characteristics and problems due to different situations in natural geographic conditions and socioeconomic development.

The earliest record of oil field

This is the wetland of Yellow River estuary.

 To see, to listen, to feel, and to thinkthis is the goal of the Yellow River Decade

How can the minorities sustain their relatively native natural environment? How can they show their awe and love to nature? How does the irrigation system in the midstream of Yellow River cause water shortages downstream? What kind of lessons has Sanmenxia brought to us? Why did Shandong Province, the large agricultural province downstream, use to have over 200 days of draught-up in the River every year? What kind of threats does the natural reserves in the estuary wetland of Yellow River face? What is the fate of the future Yellow River?

Such a project gathering experts, media, NGOs and volunteers may not be able to change anything, but at least we can record the current situation of the river facing different kinds of crises and challenges. In this way, people following us can know what had happened.

The team rested for a while Xianhe Town after we arrived at Dongying. The local people said that the original name of this town was Xianhe Town as it had been the habitat of cranes. However, the cranes had gone, and what had left were only the houses and the roads. Ever since the existence of human society, it has been the common feature of agricultural and industrial civilizations that the nature retreats when human develop. This is now also happening in the natural reserves area in Yellow River estuary near Xianhe Town.

Egrets in the estuaries


Yellow River estuary: the river on one side, and the sea on the other

When the bus arrived at the planned chemical park, the team found that some chemical factories were already in operation, some were under fast construction, and some had firstly fenced their areas although the land had not been flattened. Just on the other side of the road, the team found the verdant reeds in the experimental areas of the natural reserves.

Future Chemical Industry City at the Yellow River estuary

Chemical Factories built on Wetlands

In the very beginning, planning this chemical industry park might be a good idea. Dongying, as China's most important oil production base, had given rise to a lot of chemical factories. They used to be dispersed, so air and water pollution were difficult to control. But now, they are planned to be put together, so an all-serving sewage treatment plant can be built. And we have indeed seen the treatment plant under construction together with the chemical plant. The chemical industry park is located in the region which used to be the ancient watercourse of Yellow River between 1963 and 1975. Now, it collects domestic waste water and rainwater, but the sewage is directly discharged into the sea directly. It was said that the wastewater from the treatment plant in the chemical industry park, which reaches standards, would also go to the sea via here. But one of our water resource experts was concerned about how such a small sewage treatment plant could handle such an amount of wastewaters from 70 factories. Therefore, it is like that some untreated sewage from the chemical factories would be discharged into the wetland, or even into the sea.

Chemical Industry in Wetlands

Chemical factories in Wetlands

We cannot blame the construction outside the experimental area, but we are concerned that the construction would give rise to environmental problems. This concern is valid because the problems are happening. The soil now used for flattening the wetland is directly transported from the natural reserves on the other side of the road. A chemical factory had an accident of leaking chemicals for over two hours right after its operation started. Workers from an enterprise near the natural reserve often have to wear masks to go to work.

Facing such a large-scale chemical industry park in front of their own doors, local people are scared. But they said it was a national policy and they could not help. Such words like civil society, public participation, and information disclosure, are too far away from their life. Promoting public participation is one of the missions of the Green Earth’ river project.

Green Earth came here and made an investigation a month ago. We saw then a sign of “ciconia boyciana protected areas”, but it is now gone. Even if the sign was not removed, the Oriental white stork would not come here any more. The water here is drained, so they now have no suitable habitat.


Protected areas and chemical industry enterprise

Last time when we came, a lot of flattened land was bare. But now, because of the abundant rainwater, the plants grow above the land again. We are very pleased that we can see the grass grow back. But in fact, this is precisely what should make us sad. Wetland is called "the kidney of the earth," which means it can accumulate nutrients of upstream to support the biodiversity. It can also play a role in flood control. When precipitation is rich, it stores water and prevent flood; when precipitation is rare, it releases water to supply shallow groundwater. That is to say, no matter how much the precipitation is, it maintains a relatively moist condition. But now, wetlands are filled, and they have lost the function of storing water, so once precipitation were scarce, vegetation degradation would happen.

Wetlands were dug

Animals and plants in the wetland

Yellow River before falling into the estuary

With anxiety, we walked from 1200 Management Station of Yellow River’s old river course Nature Reserve to Dawenliu Management Station in new Yellow River Nature Reserve. Until now the Yellow River have never changed course since the artificial change of its original course in 1975. Large areas of green reed marshes and red carpet, the variety of well-known or unknown birds in our shots every now and then, and the rabbits occasionally running in front of our bus, have relieved the team temporarily and made us enjoy the rare moment. There is an ecological concept "edge effect", which says in the interlaced area of two ecosystems, biological diversity is often high. The Yellow River estuary wetland, which is located in the intersection of fresh water and sea water, can be called as a typical example of edge effect.

The wetland in the sea estuary

I shoot, I record

The Yellow River Decade, I record

According to previous survey data, the number of aquatic living resources exceeds 800 in the region, including all kinds of precious, rare, and endangered birds. Among the 187 species of birds which has been confirmed to be living here,  which consists of five species of birds like cranes , golden eagles,are listed for the first-class national protection, 27 species are listed for second class protection. Larus saundersi, a rare and endangered bird of the world, are more commonly distributed in this protected area.

Yellow River estuary is a typical ecological system of the alongshore marine environment. It is an important habitat for marine shellfish, and also the place for fish, shrimp, crab and other major marine economic species for spawning, nursery and feeding. It has an important ecological and economic value.

Because it is now the season of abundant rainfall, ecological problems of the new Yellow River Estuary are hidden compared to the ongoing ecological damage in the Old Yellow River Nature Reserve. But the impact may not be less than the destruction on wetlands from the chemical plant construction. The draught-up of the river is the most significant impact on the new Yellow River wetland ecology.

Continue draught-up of the Yellow River has made the watercourse downstream into siltation, so flood passing, flood controlling, ice ability are degraded. It increased a series of ecological problems such as soil salinization, desertification, water table reduction, and reduction of surface evaporation. This change of environment has degraded the wetland meadow ecosystem, threatening many plants and animals which lived on freshwater. Sediment accumulation removes the important source of entrainment brought by the sediment, and also gives marine lives in the Bohai Sea a serious hazard.

We're also interested in how the Yellow River estuary will be affected by global warming. Scientists have found that compared with the year 2000, the coastal sea level of Shandong Province has risen 15 to 25 cm. But compared to sea level rise, the greatest impact on the life of people' the Yellow River estuary is still from the Yellow River. The draught-up incidence of Yellow River in the 1990s has not only affected the industrial and agricultural production and water supply for the city, but more seriously, it has also affected the ecological chain along the Yellow River.

Why is there draught-up in downstream? How is it related to the development in the midstream and upstream? We choose to go up stream for the first year of the Yellow River Decade, hoping to find the reasons from the results.

Record at the estuary

Shot at the Yellow River estuary

A little boat

After 12 hours in the first day of the Yellow River Decade,we welcomed the setting sun at where the sea meets the sky. The youngest land in China had left rich and unique tourism resources for Dongying City. The natural landscape of the estuary was magnificent and extraordinarily awesome. In our view, the water was rolling with the rays of sunshine, and a wooden fishing boat was nearby.

The river on one side, and the sea on the other. We stood at the confluence of the river and the sea, experiencing the fusion of river and sea, the blend of man and nature, and the mingle of day and night. People are really small; heaven and earth, river and sea are really vast.

The Estuary

We at the setting sun of the Yellow River estuary

After one day’s hard work, the visit of the first day ends in a so quiet place, calming down our restless hearts. Only nature can have such power.

The last ray of sunshine at the Yellow River

The driver collected signatures from each of us in Yellow River DecadeTomorrow, the Yellow River Decade team will move to Henan Province.

Translator: Liang Tingting; Mi Yu

Proofreader: Tian Peng

Copyright © 2011 - All Rights Reserved - 绿家园环境科学研究中心 京ICP备09016501号