Xi Jiang Rivers and Streams

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Jiu Zhai Gou Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province, China.
© WWF-Canon / John MacKINNON

About the Area

The southern margin of China is characterised by a distinctive landscape of karst limestone, where hills, sinkholes, and caverns abound. As the second largest river system in China, the Xi Jiang (or Pearl River) has three main tributaries: the Xi Jiang, the Beijang, and the Dongjiang. The Xi Jiang is by far the largest of the three. The Xi Jiang runs for more than 1,300 miles (2,000 km) before flowing through the vast Pearl Delta and into the South China Sea.

The endemic diversity is considered unusual for a moderate climate. Each summer monsoonal rains flood the Xi Jiang River, the level of flooding varies each year depending on the strength of the monsoons.
Size:
387,000 sq. km (154,800 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Small Rivers

Geographic Location:
Southeastern Asia: southern China and northern Vietnam

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered
Local Species
The ecoregion, defined by the Xi Jiang (or Pearl River) and its tributaries, contains over 380 freshwater, brackish, and anadromous fish species out of which, 120 may be endemic.

This ecoregion's migratory fish species include the rare Chinese sturgeon (Acipenser sinensis) and two Shads (Tenualosa reevesii and Clupanodon thrissa).

Featured species

The Chinese sturgeon (Acipenser sinensis) is an anadromous protected species that presently only spawns in the Yangtze River. Its size is about 130 cm. The max. weight is about 550.0 kg. Fry can be found in slow moving waters and the adults in deep waters.

The fish is used in Chinese medicine. Little is currently known about the population genetic structure of the Chinese sturgeon. The max. reported age is 13 years.

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Threats
The natural population of the rare Chinese sturgeon has declined since the Gezhouba Dam blocked its migratory route to the spawning grounds in 1981. In the near future, the completion of the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric project, may further impact this species by altering the water flow of the Yangtze River.

Over 3,000 dams have been built on the Xi Jiang River and its tributaries, blocking the migration of freshwater and anadromous species. Over seventy-five per cent of land in the basin has been converted into cropland resulting in the loss of eighty per cent of the original forest cover.

Thus, the landscape around the rivers and streams has been severely changed, leaving little of the natural vegetation to buffer water flowing overland to the streams, further resulting in water pollution. Population in the delta of this river is expected to double over the next 25-50 years, and with an increasing population will come an increasing need for clean fresh water.
WWF’s work
Following China’s signing of the International Convention on Wetlands, WWF provided continuous technical and financial support to the Ministry of Forestry during the process of drafting the National Wetland Conservation Action Plan for China.

In 1999, in conjunction with the Ministry of Forestry, WWF organized workshops and training programs for wetland reserve staff and provincial administrators to help them effectively manage the protected areas.

Since the completion of the National Wetland Conservation Action Plan for China, WWF has successfully achieved its goal of adding 14 new wetland sites, totalling an area of 1.95 million, for protection under the Ramsar Convention. The 14 wetlands are mainly located in north-eastern China, the Yangtze River area, and coastal regions. These new sites safeguard the habitat of several migratory bird species, as well as sea turtles and seals.

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