High-altitude wetlands in western China named for Ramsar List

High-altitude wetlands in western China named for Ramsar List

26 January 2005

China names nine new Ramsar sites for World Wetlands Day

The Secretariat is delighted to announce that the Government of the People's Republic of China has designated nine new Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area of nearly 400,000 hectares. One of them, Shuangtai Estuary on the Liao River in northeastern China, makes up part of what has been called "the world's largest reed bed". The other eight new Ramsar sites are all in Qinghai and Yunnan Provinces and the Tibet Autonomous Region and are all high-altitude marshes and lakes, one as high as 6,500 meters asl, among the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow, and Yalu Tsangpo/Brahmaputra Rivers. All of these have very important hydrological functions, both locally and downstream, and all are extremely valuable sites for migratory birds, including the endangered Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis. Because of the relative isolation of the sites, some of them have high levels of endemism, particularly with fish species, and they are vital sources of livelihood for the populations nearby. These new mountain designations have been made as part of China's efforts in the "Wetland Conservation and Wise Use in the Himalayan High Mountains" initiative and have been assisted by support from WWF China and WWF's Global Freshwater Programme.

Brief descriptions of the nine new sites, drawn from the Ramsar Information Sheets submitted with the designations, have been put together with assistance from Ramsar's Ms Shahzia M. Khan.

Bitahai Wetland. 07/12/04; Yunnan; 1,985 ha; 27º42'N 100º01'E. Provincial Nature Reserve. An alpine wetland between 3,000 and 4,260 meters above sea level, with swamps, lake, peatlands, and adjacent forest cover. The site has very high hydrological values such as flood prevention and control in the key catchment zones of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau; as part of the Jinsha River watershed in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, it supplies water to the aquifers and stabilizes the flow in the lower reaches of the Yangtze. The lake is the home of the endangered endemic fish Ptychobarbus chungtienensis chungtienensis, and the site is situated in the core zone of the Hengduan Mountains Biogeographical Region, one of the three major endemic floral diversity centres in China. The Nature Reserve attracts a large number of tourists every year, to whom the local people provide horse-riding services. Production activities of the surrounding communities are largely husbandry and agriculture, with a majority of cash income generated from collecting and selling Tricholoma matsutake mushroom, raising cows, and selling diary products. Ramsar site No. 1434.

Dashanbao. 07/12/04;Yunnan; 5,958 ha; 27º24'N 103º20'E. National Nature Reserve. A peat moor in subalpine swamp meadows, between 2,210 and 3,364 meters above sea level, with shallow water vegetation such as Poa annua Linn, Geum aleppicum, and Cyperus serotinus. Major hydrological functions include flood control and water recharge to supply ground water to downstream and hillside spring vents. The site supports the highest concentration, representing one fifth of the world population, of Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis, a globally endangered species, and is important for other migratory waterbirds, e.g. Mergus squamatus, Ciconia nigra, Grus grus, and Cygnus Cygnus, as well. Protection measures include a restoration project to promote community-based forestry and returning farmlands to forestry, increasing foraging space in moor lands and pastures, protection of wild plants, marsh vegetation restoration, water quality improvement, media productions, and an educational campaign for communities. Local people within the core zone are being encouraged and compensated to relocate, and a Grus nigricollis rescue station has been established. Ramsar site No. 1435.

Eling Lake. 07/12/04; Qinghai; 65,907 ha; 34º56'N 097º43'E. Provincial Nature Reserve. The largest freshwater lake in the Yellow River catchment with high hydrological values, regulating run-offs, retaining sediments, maintaining water quality, and preventing flooding. At over 4,200 meters on semi-arid plateau, the lake is an important habitat for the globally endangered Grus nigricollis, Anser indicus, Larus ichthyaetus, Phalacrocorax carbo, and Larus brunnicephalus, and supports key fish species including Gymnocypris eckloni Herzenstein and Gymnodiptychus ptychocheilus Herzenstein. The sub-Himalayan plant community forms the main food of livestock and the source of traditional Tibetan herbal medicines. The lake plays an important role in Tibetan Buddhist history and is one of the six holiest sites for pilgrimage. Threats to the site include shrinking glaciers and retreating snow lines caused by global warming, with decreasing water supplies. Ramsar site No. 1436.

Lashihai Wetland. 07/12/04; Yunnan; 3560 ha; 26º53'N 100º08'E. Provincial Nature Reserve. A unique plateau freshwater lake with marsh meadows, located between 2,440 and 3,100 meters above sea level at the headwaters of the Yangtze River in the Hengduan Mountains. It is an important migration passage, breeding ground and wintering habitat of nearly 76 species of wild geese and ducks, e.g. Anas crecca, Fulica atra, and Aythya fuligula. The water outlet of the lake is connected to the Jinsha River with major hydrological functions of flood control, storage and water balance in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. It also supplies drinking water to Lijian City, a famous World Heritage cultural property. As a biodiversity 'hotspot', Lashihai attracts 200-300 tourists daily particularly for birdwatching and horse-riding; major protection measures include a ban on and inspection of fishing, poaching and hunting, but a potential threat for the lake ecosystem is increasing unplanned tourism. Ramsar Site No. 1437.

Maidika. 07/12/04; Tibet Autonomous Region; 43,496 ha; 31°08'N, 093°00'E. A vast swamp meadow above 4,900 meters, with permanent and seasonal pools and lakes in the headwater region of the Maidicangbu, a tributary stream of the Lhasa River. The site, one of the "highest altitude wetlands with the coexistence of man and nature", performs major hydrological functions like control of soil erosion, prevention of seasonal floods, interception of sediment from the upper stream and formation of a productive wetland with meadows and swamps. Maidika plays a critical role as a staging and breeding habitat for migratory waterfowl, including rare endangered Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis, Ruddy Shelducks Tadorna ferruginea, and Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus, harbouring about 6,000-10,000 migratory birds every year. Plant species are not abundant because of the high altitude climate conditions, giving space for fragile grasses belonging to aster and bean families to grow. The lands are mostly state-owned and partly contracted to local Tibetans as pastures for increasing numbers of livestock each year. Ramsar site No.1438.

Mapangyong Cuo. 07/12/04; Tibet Autonomous Region; 73,782 hectares; 30°44' N 081°19'E. A high-altitude wetland of the Tibetan plateau (4,500-6,500m asl) covering Mapangyong and Laang Lakes with surrounding swamps and rivers, "one of the highest elevation freshwater wetlands in the world" and a source of the Yalu Tsangpo/Brahmaputra River. It is a spawning and survival habitat for Tibetan plateau endemic fish species Schizopygopsis microcephalus and Triplophysa stewarti and supports large populations of Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis and the chiru or Tibetan antelope Pantholops hodgsoni, amongst others. Vegetation is dominated by subalpine desert grasslands like Stipa glareosa with alpine meadow composed of Stipa purpurea, Carex moorcroftii, Poa annua and Caragana versicolor distributed between 4,700-5,000m asl. The lake, situated beside the holy mountain Kang Rinpoche, is a holy place in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and "Black Buddhism" and attracts hundreds of devotees and tourists every year. Local herdmen use the surrounding wetlands for grazing. Ramsar site No. 1439.

Napahai Wetland. 07/12/04; Yunnan; 2,083 ha; 27º51'N 099º38´E. Provincial Nature Reserve. A seasonal karst marsh composed of meadow, open water, peatlands, and surrounding forests situated at about 3,260m above sea level, with lake outflow through karst caves draining underground into the Jinsha River in the upper reaches of the Yangtze. It is an important wintering site and staging post for numerous valuable, rare and endangered wintering birds, especially the Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis, Black Stork Ciconia nigra, and White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. The region is economically very poor, but in recent years sightseeing and birdwatching have brought significant economic and social benefits, and it is felt that conservation-based ecotourism will benefit the protection of the ecosystems. Overgrazing and logging in the surrounding area are seen as potential threats. An "awareness education and publicity" project has been proposed to build wildlife rescue stations and a centre for awareness education, publicity and exhibition for nature conservation. Ramsar site no. 1440.

Shuangtai Estuary. 07/12/04; Liaoning; 128,000 ha; 41º00'N, 121º47'E. National Nature Reserve. The estuary of the Liao River at Liaodong Bay in northeastern China, the site includes "the essential part of the world's largest reed marsh (Phragmites communis)", a large area of Suaeda community, and shallow sea. The site, which meets all eight of the Ramsar Criteria, provides flood control and prevention, maintains groundwater recharge, and retains 10.4 million tons of nutrients and sediment each year, helping to prevent coastal water eutrophication. It provides important habitat for resting and breeding of 400,000 waterbirds of 106 species, including endangered Grus japonensis, G. leucogeranus, and Larus saundersi. The site provides seasonal occupation for 20,000 people for reed irrigation and harvest, oil exploration facility checking, agriculture and aquaculture. Conservation measures include environmental awareness and education for protection of birds. Ramsar site no. 1441.

Zhaling Lake. 07/12/04. Qinghai; 64,920 ha; 34º55'N 097º16'E. Provincial Nature Reserve. A unique plateau freshwater wetland at high altitude (4,273m asl) with marsh meadow and alpine vegetations, with the second largest lake in the sources of the Yellow River. As the lake is nutriet-poor and cold, only adaptive fish forms such as Gymnocypris eckloni, Platypharodon extremus, Chuanchia labiosa, and Gymnodiptychus pachycheilu are developed, which gives the site a high level of fish endemism. The conservation targets for the wetland include 22 nationally protected species, e.g. Grus nigricollis, Aquila chrysaetos, and Gypaetus barbatus. The swamp area is a breeding and roosting habitat of other common waterbirds such as Tadorna Ferruginea, Larus brunnicephalus, Larus ichthyaetus, Phalacrocorax carbo, and Anser indicus. Local Tibetan people have created distinctive plateau culture, religion, and folk customs which attract scientists, explorers and travelers every year despite limited tourism facilities so far. Pasture lands around the lake are contracted to the local herdsmen, about 1,800 in number. Following a sharp decline of natural fish stock due to over-harvesting in the late 1980s, the exhausted stock was replenished through adoption of a local conservation plan that prevented over-fishing. However, the main threats remain with over-grazing in the pastures and desertification. Ramsar site no. 1442.