SHANGHAI International Nature Conservation Festival concluded Friday following seven days of events, lectures and films held to raise public awareness about nature and environmental protection in and around the city. A highlight topic that drew heated discussion from local and foreign scholars attending the festival was how to move forward in the construction, development and transformation of Shanghai's Chongming Island as a world-class eco-island.
A street lamp powered by solar and wind energy
At the beginning of the year, Shanghai announced its Chongming World-Class Eco-Island Development 13th Five-year Plan. According to the plan, by 2020 forest coverage of the island will reach 30 percent and the natural wetland preservation rate will reach 43 percent.
At least 95 percent of the island's ground sewage will be well-treated and 80 percent of household waste will be recycled. Eco-friendly commuting will account for 80 percent of local transportation, with new-energy powered buses covering the whole island.
Residential living conditions will also be improved. The population on the island will be strictly capped at 700,000 by 2020, and the average income is predicted to double from that of 2010, according to the plan.
Chen Liu, a villager living at Yingdong ecological village is over the moon talking about the delightful environment changes taking place in her home village. Located in Chenjiazhen Town, east of Chongming Island, Yingdong has only 200 residents or so.
Clean and tidy is the first impression many visitors have when they come across the spotless village. On both sides of its roads are well-maintained country houses painted in traditional white, aesthetically contrasting with their old-style rooftops. Each household is separated by greenbelts instead of walls or fences.
In front of each home are two trash bins, one for dry rubbish and the other for wet. Street lamps are also specially designed and powered by solar and wind energy. Occasionally you may run into a local farmer on his bike, as cars are dissuaded.
The rivers here used to be blocked up with mud and weeds. However the situation has been greatly improved since the river cleaning project was launched. Now if you come in the summer you can see beautiful plants and flowers along the riverbanks, Chen told the Global Times.
In May, a sign was erected on the riverbank of the village which clarified detailed targets to protect the 1.28-kilometer river running through Yingdong village, including removing obstructions, cleaning the source of the pollution, ceasing illegal construction and planting green coverage on the riverbanks.
The goal is to upgrade the quality of its water, part of a scheme called Head of the River, as the district now has 1,100 people (called river heads) who are in charge of 16,000 lakes and rivers, according to Chongming water authority. Natural wetlands, fresh air and cleaned-up waterways will transform the village into a world-class natural getaway from Shanghai's urban chaos.
Chen works as a tourist guide in Yingdong village. She said the village used to rely on freshwater aquaculture and farming, but now eco-tourism is a vital local industry. A pier for yachts has been constructed, along with fishing spots, a barbecue center, a museum and local specialty shopping centers.
Over 150,000 people have visited our town, most from downtown Shanghai, Chen said.
The ecological environment of the Yangtze River has also improved in recent years, with an abundance of thriving animals being a clear indicator of its hospitable habitat. According to the Administration of Chinese Sturgeon Nature Conservation Area at Chongming Island, 12 fish species have recently reappeared at the Yangtze River estuary.
Information sign about the river in Yingdong village
Plight of the Chinese sturgeon
From 2012, over 30 monitoring spots were set up in the Nature Conservation Area at Chongming Island near the estuary, but these 12 species had never been seen until just this past year.
Yangtze River's estuary serves as a passage for fish to travel between the river and the East China Sea, and is an important ecological indicator that plays a key role in local fishery protection and development, especially for the Chinese sturgeon.
The Chinese sturgeon has existed for more than 140 million years, since the era of dinosaurs. They are born in the Yangtze River. Every April and May, they swim to the river mouth of the Yangtze, where they dwell until October.
During that half-year, they grow from 10 centimeters to 50 centimeters in preparation of swimming to sea, where they will spend 10 years to 20 years before swimming back to the Yangtze River when fully matured.
However, due to pollution and illegal fishing that has plagued the species in recent decades, the Chinese sturgeon were driven to the verge of extinction, becoming a nationally protected animal.
Sturgeons face a more crucial distinction crisis than pandas, a worker from the nature conservation area told the Global Times.
To protect the Chinese sturgeon, a nature conservation area was established at the Yangtze River estuary in 2002. An important responsibility is to detect and protect baby sturgeons, artificially breed the species then release them back into nature.
To help the artificially reared sturgeons survive in the wild, the conservation base will simulate its surroundings, including constructing pools with water quality, waves, salinity and temperatures similar to the mouth of the river, where they will eventually be freed.
Currently, the center raises over 500 Chinese sturgeons of various sizes, with the largest extending 3 meters and weighing 200 kilograms. Since 2004, local authorities have freed artificially bred sturgeons 17 different times, according to a media report from Xinhua News Agency in 2016.
Pools where Chinese sturgeons are reared.
If Puxi is the business center of Shanghai and Pudong is the innovation center of Shanghai, then Chongming Island will become the ecological center of Shanghai, Zeng Gang, director of the Institute of Urban and Regional Planning and Institute of Urban Development, East China Normal University, told the Global Times at the closing ceremony of Franco-Chinese Month of the Environment in 2017 and the 5th Urban Development Forum ECNU last week.
With over 20 years of research experience at Chongming Island, Zeng believes Chongming has an advantage to reach its goal of becoming an world-class ecological island.
A Chinese sturgeon
The natural environment is better than the rest of the city. The inhabits of the island have also adopted a slow pace of life which is in accordance to the idea of low-intensity development, Zeng said.
However, challenges remain. According to the plan, Chongming will transform itself from an agricultural production base into a model research headquarters for green agriculture, and a high-end laboratory for new species research and breeding. But the relatively traditional lifestyle and mind-set of the island's native inhabitants is what Zeng sees as a major obstacle.
This goal can't be completed by local residents alone. How to introduce talents from outside while keeping the island's population under 700,000 is what needs to be solved in order to make a high-end blueprint in accordance to our human resources, Zeng said.
With that in mind, East China Normal University's Chongming Ecological Research Center, which combines efforts from local and foreign scholars, was set up in April to solve ecological, environmental and safety issues during the construction and development of Chongming.
Source: The Global Times