The Yangtze, the largest river of China and the third longest in the world, descends 7500 m from the pristine Tibetan Plateau to the East China sea over the course of its 6300 km journey. The mighty river has been a cradle of an ancient culture and root of much prosperity and sorrow in China. For thousands of years, the river’s sights, sounds and mystical atmosphere inspired much of Chinese philosophy, literature and art.
At 1.8 million square km the Yangtze River Basin is 7 times the size of the United Kingdom. Four hundred million people, one third of China’s population live here.
A high concentration of rare and endemic species shares this region with people. The best known includes the giant panda, the Siberian crane, the leopard and the Yangtze River dolphin. The unique system of forest, rivers and lakes form the Chinese Eden of Biodiversity.
The river also holds 40% of China’s freshwater resources. The Basin’s economic zones generate 40% of the total production value of China and an annual GDP growth of 15% (compared with a national GDP rate of 9%). However, the Yangtze Basin also contributes 60% of the country’s pollution, and is the single largest source of marine pollution to the Pacific Ocean.
While the Yangtze River Basin is recognised as being amongst the most unique and significant ecosystems in the world, the region is severely degraded.
In the last half century, China’s population has more than doubled and become heavily concentrated along the major river valleys. Slope erosion, sedimentation and industrial pollution are some of the factors that have degraded water quality and the wetland landscape. The wetlands have been divided into smaller parcels of land, causing disturbance to natural processes and drastic reduction in their capacity for absorbing high water levels. Large-scale deforestation upriver has destroyed the “sponge” function of the soil, exacerbated erosion and increased flooding.
The Yangtze is the river basin most threatened by dam building with 105 dams planned or under construction on the main stream and key tributaries.