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Wednesday, August 09, 2000, updated at 19:01(GMT+8)

China to Restore Impaired Mangroves

Liao Liezhong, a Chinese fisherman, doesn't mind planting mangrove trees in the shoal land of Behai City, a sea outlet of the Beibu Gulf in southwest China.

Liao knows it will work against the damage done by villagers who converted some 100 ha of mangrove swamps into aquaculture enclosures, which hurts the environment there.

Without the protection of the natural bulwark that holds back tidal waves, sea water is eroding the rich swamp, as witnessed Liao, who likes to see egrets fluttering over the mangrove branches and droves of crabs and fish dwelling under the tree roots.

The deforestation of the mangroves is the reason for an increasing frequency of red tide, typhoons and a decreasing aquatic output inshore, which has threatened the mariculture industry, said Fan Hangqing, professor with the International Mangrove Ecosystem Association.

His research in the subtropical Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southwest China showed that the region, which has the largest acreage of mangrove swamps in China, 40 percent of the country's total, has seen the coverage drop by 10 percent, 5,600 ha., over the past decade. The resource-rich region is the home to China's unique island and sandbank mangrove reserves at the interior bay of Beibu Gulf.

The shrinkage of mangrove habitats has taken place in nearly all the resource areas, as a result of the booming mariculture industry along coastal regions and downgrading sea pollution.

Nowadays, China's total of 15,000 ha. of mangrove are intersected only in Guangxi, some coastline sections of Guangdong and Fujian provinces in south China and the southernmost island province of Hainan.

What also caused the loss were red tides that have struck China's coast more often in the 1990s than before, which has averaged out to about 20 cases annually, according to the figures with the State Oceanic Administration.

Experts like Fan have been strongly advocating for mangrove's effects in filtering sea pollution and transforming sunlight energy into organic compounds, which provide plenitudinous nutrition to sustain varied ecosystems for over 2,000 varieties of wildlife and cash aquatics.

A well-preserved mangrove swamp can yield 34,500-64,500 yuan (4,156-7,771 US dollars) per ha. of economic value a year without any production cost, according to Fan, who is also head of Guangxi Mangrove Research Institute.

The knowledge has aroused the Chinese government's strong attention. In order to combat the mangrove deforestation, China has set up seven provincial-level mangrove protected areas, which encase 33 percent of the resources. The State Council has called on the local governments to restore impaired mangrove swamps by reforestation.

China introduced a law on maritime environment protection on April 1 this year, which has brought the mangrove resources into legal protection. The country is also actively supporting international biosphere protection programs. Its annual appropriation for the purpose runs up to over 50 billion yuan (6 billion US dollars).

With an improved awareness, more Chinese are expected to join people like Liao Liezhong in planting mangrove trees along China's coastline. The project is just as ambitious as the construction of ecologically-sound forests in the upper-reach of China's major rivers.

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Liao Liezhong, a Chinese fisherman, doesn't mind planting mangrove trees in the shoal land of Behai City, a sea outlet of the Beibu Gulf in southwest China.

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