Yangtze River & Lakes | WWF

Yangtze River & Lakes

About the Area

From an elevation of 4,900 meters (about 16,000 feet), the third longest river in the world - Yangtze, descends rapidly as it crosses gorges and runs past limestone hills. Today, the Yangtze (known locally as Chang Jiang, or "Long River") is a centre for agriculture, industry, and tourism.
The river and the lakes that it feeds are also where diverse species of fish, birds, and mammals have lived for centuries. During the summer rainy season, swollen waters of the Yangtze River flood into the surrounding lake basins; during winter and spring when river levels are low, the lakes drain back into the river.

The flora and fauna are adapted to these cycles as fish mix freely between lakes during flooding and terrestrial mammals swim to seek high ground. Poyang Lake, one of the largest lakes, serves as winter habitat for numerous waterfowl species.

Local Species

The Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji, was once well-known along much of the central and lower Yangtze. However, rapid development in the Yangtze basin, which is home to more than 400 million people, has put immense pressure on the river's ecosystem and its unique biodiversity. Today, the baiji is functionally extinct.

Conservation efforts were too late to save the baiji; to avoid a repeat of this tragedy, serious efforts are underway to protect the Yangtze finless porpoise, which numbers between 1,200 and 1,800 in the basin.

Among the numerous threatened fish species are the Yangtze sturgeon (Acipenser dabryanus), Chinese sturgeon (A. sinensis), and the Chinese swordfish (Psephurus gladius). Other vertebrates include the largest salamander in the world, Audrias davidianus, Red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis), and the highly endangered Yangtze alligator (Alligator sinensis).

Fish farming, deforestation, cultivation of surrounding land for farming and grazing, pollution, oil drilling, industrialisation, urbanisation, and introduced diseases from domestic waterfowl pose widespread threats to this ecoregion. The most pressing and severe threat is construction of dams and dikes on the Yangtze and its tributaries, which alter the natural flow regime, block migratory routes, and sever the connection between the rivers and their floodplain habitats.

1,613,378 sq. km (622,925 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Large Rivers

Geographic Location:
Asia - flowing west to east through China

Conservation Status:

What can be done?

To save the endangered Yangtze finless porpoise, WWF recommends:

  • Banning fishing year-round in key reserves for at least 10 years, instead of the current annual three-month ban
  • Reconnecting Yangtze mainstem to surrounding lake systems
  • Ending the practice of widening and deepening the river for navigation
  • Enforcing a maximum speed limit for ships passing through dolphin nature reserves

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.

Enter Yes if you accept the terms and conditions
Enter Yes if you accept the terms and conditions