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UPDATED: August 7, 2009 NO. 32 AUGUST 13, 2009
Keeping Swamp as Treasures
Chinese wetlands are slowly getting protection under the law

"Actually, the solution to such problems lies in the wetlands. Experts say that 80 percent of sand is generated locally; a moist surface environment like in a wetland can hold such sands. In the 1990s, sandstorms became more frequent while the severe loss of wetlands happened at the same time," Hou said.

The Beijing Forestry Prospect and Design Institute organized an investigation to the area's wetlands in 2007. After 18 months of investigation, experts developed a clear understanding of the wetlands' area, distribution and wildlife species that call it home. They developed a detailed distribution chart and set up a database, creating a foundation with which authorities could develop preservation plans for the city's wetlands.

"Beijing currently has 51,400 hectares of wetlands, which account for 3.13 percent of the total area of the city," said Liang, who lives near the Summer Palace and always cares for Beijing's wetlands.

Beijing will build six or seven more wetland parks by the end of this year and the total number will reach 14 within two years, authorities said.

Beijing authorities recently published an evaluation guide for wetland parks. "The wetland area should be more than 30 percent of the total area of the park, which must be no less than 8 hectares," said Yin Junjie, Director of the Wildlife Protection Office of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Landscape and Forestry.

He said wetlands are mainly conservation areas and restrict the number of people who can enter. "The guide aims to combine wetlands and city functional parks, letting citizens enjoy both and relieving Beijing's urban heat island effect, which means the urban area of Beijing is warmer than its surrounding rural areas," Yin said.

The Convention on Wetlands is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands. It was developed and adopted by participating nations at a meeting in Ramsar, Iran on February 2, 1971, and came into effect on December 21, 1975. China ratified the Convention in 1992. Since then, the Chinese Government has invested more in protecting and restoring wetland resources. In September 1994, the State Forestry Administration and 16 other ministries and administrations began working out the China National Wetlands Conservation Action Plan, which was put into effect in November 2000. In June 2004, the General Office of the State Council issued the Circular of Further Strengthening Wetland Protection Management, putting wetland protection into the national agenda.

Today, China has more than 38 million hectares of wetlands. By the end of 2008, China had built 80 wetland parks, more than 550 wetland nature reserves and 36 internationally important wetlands, thus putting 17.9 million hectares of natural wetlands under protection.

Legislative intentions

Authorities recently began seeking opinions on a draft of the Regulations on Wetlands Protection, which will be sent to the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council for approval.

The Wetland Conservation and Management Center's Bao Daming said that a lag or lack of laws added difficulties to establishing effective management systems.

"The protection of wetlands must be cooperative between different departments," said Bao. If cooperation cannot be formed between concerned departments, the full protection of wetlands will not be achieved, even if legislative resources are developed separately by the agencies, he said.

In recent years, some local authorities have achieved progress in wetland protection legislation. Eight provinces and autonomous regions, including Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, Hunan, Guangdong, Shaanxi, Gansu and Ningxia, have now approved protective legislation and most of the others are taking up the same work.

The eight provinces and autonomous regions cover 30 percent of China's total area. Due to the difference in wetland types and different problems facing each, each of the set of laws and regulations is also differ significantly.

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