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China's New 'Great Seawall' is Harming Ecosystems

Nov 20, 2014 09:29 PM EST
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great seawall
For the greater part of the last two decades, China has been rapidly developing a series of conjoined seawalls along nearly half the entire length of its mainland's coastline. And while this has been a major boon for desperate land developers, it has proven disastrous for local and even migrating wildlife.
[Pictured: Current and projected seawall projects along the Chinese coast]
(Photo : Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1257258 )

For the greater part of the last two decades, China has been rapidly developing a series of conjoined seawalls along nearly half the entire length of its mainland's coastline. And while this has been a major boon for desperate land developers, it has proven disastrous for local and even migrating wildlife.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Science which details how the vast wetlands being sacrificed for the sake of China's ever-expanding industry support a daunting number of birds, millions of which rely on the coastlines as they migrate.

These same coastlines produce 28 million tons of fishery products; that's close to a whopping 20 percent of the world's total seafood and other fishing product (IE- fish oil).

Perhaps even more importantly, these disappearing wetlands were found to be intimately linked to the wellbeing of surrounding ecosystems, boasting a stunning amount of biodiversity and just general biomass essential for local food chains.

Lastly, the study details how these wetlands absorb pollutants and protect people from extreme weather.

It has been argued that the seawalls can also protect from natural evens, such as tsunamis. However, the study's authors suggest that it's unlikely that they would be as effective as the wetland's natural "walls" of mangrove trees.

In fact, as study published back in 2005 supports this sentiment, finding evidence that mangroves proved exceptionally effective at preventing damage caused by 2004's disastrous Indian Ocean tsunami.

"These coastal areas are a perfect example of coupled human and natural systems. They are also a telling example of how telecoupled our world is," researcher Jianguo "Jack" Liu explained in a statement. "The decisions being made in China [to build seawalls] are having enormous consequences to people and ecosystem services in China and the rest of the world."

He goes on to argue that the best way to protect these wetlands is to show business and government their value - a value that the study puts at about $200 billion in production and sustained services for 2011.

"We must bring ecosystem services to the business table for a sustainable future," he said.

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