The Yancheng Symposium 2017

The Yancheng International Symposium on the conservation and management of the inter-tidal wetlands in the Yellow and Bohai seas.

In December 2017, the BMWHI was one of the coordinating organisations involved in an International Symposium  organised by Eco Global Forum, the Jiangsu Provincial Government of China, and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asia. 

The symposium aimed to address the implications of the rapid decline in the inter-tidal wetlands in the Yellow and Bohai seas due to environmental impacts such as reclamation for coastal development in China, North and South Korea. It is estimated that as much as two thirds of the regions wetlands have been lost.  

These wetlands play a critical role in the East-Asian Australasian Flyways by which the majority of  Australia’s migratory water-birds travel to and from the Arctic Circle each year. 

In the far north of Siberia and Alaska, these water-birds breed in the northern summer and then fly to the rich mudflats and wetlands of the Yellow and Bohai seas before arriving in Australia for summer to spend time feeding in our coastal wetlands before return to the north as winter approaches. 

Unfortunately, and largely due to the loss of Yellow Sea wetlands, the population of water-birds reaching Australian shores has declined by around 70% over the past four decades. Now a number of these species are facing extinction if something is not done to reverse the loss of their habitat in the Yellow and Bohai seas. 

To address this problem, representatives of China , North and South Korea came to the coastal Chinese city of Yancheng, which also  hosts one of the largest and most important wetland sites on the Chinese coast. 

One of the objectives of the Yancheng Symposium was to explore the possibility of establishing a transnational World Heritage nomination for the remaining wetland site in the Yellow and Bohai seas similar to that which exists for the Wadden Sea on Europe’s north coast, jointly managed by Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. 

Over two days, specialists in protected areas conservation and wetland management from Australia, China, the two Koreas and Europe reviewed the problems facing the region, and the necessity to halt further developments that would degrade the remaining sites.  

The President of the IUCN, Zhang Xicheng and the Secretary General, Ramsar Matha Rojas-Urrego, were also there to support the initiative and announced the establishment of  the Yancheng International Wetland Research Institute.

As an indication of just how seriously the Chinese government now takes the issue of their declining coastal wetlands,  a very large area south of Yancheng, which was previously allocated for reclamation, has now been included into a proposed World Heritage protected area. 

This was the first time that a high level delegations from North and South Korea and China had sat down to focus on the need for collective action on conserve these wetlands, and if the recommendation from the symposium are implemented there is a good chance that the further decline in the endangered and unique water-birds of the East Asia Australasia flyways can be halted. 

In the longer term, we may well see the remaining areas of the Yellow and Bohai seas wetlands integrated in transboundary World Heritage area, protected and managed jointly by the three countries.