Lessons from China's efforts to protect wetlands and waterbirds
Wetland ecosystems are under threat globally, creating major challenges for biodiversity including waterbirds. A series of initiatives in coastal areas of China provide examples of the results that are possible when scientists, civil society, and environmental organizations work together to create safe passage for migratory birds who depend on the coastal ecosystems.
Liaohe River Estuary National Nature Reserve
Red-crowned cranes – with a global population of just 3,500 – are among the endangered species that depend on healthy coastal wetlands for their survival.
Zhao Shiwei has been working to breed and rewild red-crowned cranes in China’s Liaohe River Estuary National Nature Reserve for more than 30 years. More than 540 red-crowned cranes regularly visit the wetland ecosystem and reed swamps of the Liaohe River refuge as a stopover or wintering site.
The estuary, a habitat for more than 142 species of waterbirds, has been selected as a demonstration site in the Global Environment Facility project “Strengthening the protected area network for migratory bird conservation along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway in China.”
Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve
Every summer, groups of volunteers visit the Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve to clean up litter along the coastal areas that waterbirds visit on their migratory route.
This activity is led by the Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology Foundation, a civil society organization in China that also works closely with the GEF-funded and UN Development Programme-managed East Asian-Australasian flyway project. The collected litter is sorted, cleaned, and used as inputs for recyclable products.
Dashanbao Black-necked Crane National Nature Reserve
Similar community engagement and local action for wetlands and waterbird conservation has also been seen in other parts of the country. For instance, in the Dashanbao Black-necked Crane National Nature Reserve, Indigenous women have worked to establish a monitoring and conservation hub to better protect black-necked cranes.
Like the Liaohe River Estuary National Nature Reserve, the Chongming Dongtan and Dashanbao Black-necked Crane reserves are also demonstration sites of the East Asian-Australasian flyway project, which is supporting the migratory path of more than 50 million migratory waterbirds, including 36 globally threatened species and 19 near-threatened species.
Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve
The Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve was listed as a Ramsar site in 2013, reflecting its status as a wetland of international importance because of its importance in conserving biological diversity. It features unique coastal and marine delta wetlands that provided habitat for 38 species of waterbirds along the East Asian-Australasian flyway route. There are plans underway to establish a national park in the Yellow River Delta to further strengthen the network of protected wetlands along the flyway’s path across China, providing safe passage for globally significant migratory waterbirds.
These and other efforts to protect waterbirds in China have involved many participants and national actions. In November 2022, the Global Waterbird Flyways and Habitats Conservation Forum was held in Wuhan, bringing together more than 300 representatives from government, academia, international organizations, civil society, protected areas, the private sector, community organizations, and the media to share lessons from various migratory bird conservation efforts in China and around the world.
“We have learned a great deal through our experiences restoring wetlands in sites across China and along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, and are pleased to exchange knowledge about ways we can continue to work together for migratory waterbirds,” said Ma Chaode, Assistant Resident Representative of UNDP in China. “It is heartening to see how joint action can make contributions to global biodiversity and sustainable development and we look forward to continuing our efforts as countries implement the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.”