Nanchang's Effect on Poyang Lake

A Geography Investigation by Will Baxter-Bray

Background Information:

Poyang Hu, located in Jiangxi Province, is China’s largest freshwater lake, and on a normal year, between wet and dry seasons it averages a total area of 3,500 km squared. It is also one of the most important migration stopovers for birds that follow the East Asian/Australasian flyway, as over 500,000 birds stop over every year. Another aspect of the lake making it even more environmentally important is that every winter, around 90% of the world’s known population of Siberian Cranes (a critically endangered species estimated to have between 3,200-4,000 individual birds left on earth), stop over at the lake on their migratory route.

After understanding the above facts, it becomes clear that Poyang Lake is a very important environment totally deserving of strict conservation, and in many parts of the world an environment this important would immediately be protected, but China may be one place in which economic development would still today outweigh environmental protection. Ever since China’s cultural revolution initiated in 1949, China has began a path of incredibly fast economic development, and while this has without a doubt turned the country into an economic power rivaling the US and Britain, it also caused a lot of environmental damage, as China was so interested in becoming economically developed, it may have ignored some environmental laws along the way.

Poyang Lake is located next to Nanchang City, and the cities development therefore plays a significant role in the health of Poyang’s ecosystem, and it is quite possible that if the government decides Nanchang needs to expand significantly, it may sacrifice the pristine and important habitat comprising Poyang Lake.

I was interested in finding out how much Nanchang’s development has affected Poyang Lake, and it is for this reason that my investigation is based around this question.  

Question: To what degree has Nanchang's development damaged the diverse and internationally important ecosystem next to it in Poyang Lake?

Personal Experience with Poyang Lake:

Mr. Kinzer and I went on a trip to Poyang Lake in March 2015, in which we went looking for Siberian Cranes among other birds, as well as look at the visible pollution around the lake and the visible development of the city of Nanchang. When we first saw Nanchang, I was surprised by how tall the buildings were, how many neon lights were installed throughout the town, and generally how busy and crowded it seemed for a city in the middle of a mostly rural area. It was hard, since I was really only basing my understanding of the development of the city on how it looked on the surface, to really understand how much the city had encroached on the nearby Poyang Lake.

Once we arrived at the basecamp for the branch of the International Crane Foundation based on the lake itself, and we were actually able to go out, look for birds and survey the habitat on the lake, there was a visible amount of garbage in the water, but that was most likely produced by the inhabitants of the small county of Duchang on the lakeshore, not people living in Nanchang. There were also many hollow, man made, plastic and aluminum pipes leading into the lake, which I later learned were installed for the purpose of extracting fresh water for the people of Duchung county, and despite this being quite damaging to the lake as it is already suffering from fairly significant drought as a result of heavy damming, still did not seem to be directly related to the development of Nanchang. Air pollution however, was clear and visible throughout most of our three day stay in the area.

Other Qualitative Data:

"Nanchang held the third annual World Economic Conference, the theme of which was densely populated regions near lakes balancing the interests of people and ecosystems"

"The major problems are the poisoning of birds (swans, geese and ducks) through agricultural pesticides, siltation, electro fishing by the local fishermen to harvest the fish and poverty, especially of the farmers. More than 1,000 sq. km of wetland areas were drained from 1954 to 1984. Erosion and degradation left large areas (670 sq. km) of "waste land" behind, sandy areas with no vegetation. There exist practically no purification treatment plants for the local sewage water and therefore the eutrophication of the water increases"

"Nanchang's industrial economy has developed rapidly and formed the modern industrial system composed of aircraft manufacturing, automobile manufacturing, metallurgy, electro-mechanics, textile, chemical engineering, medicine and others; furthermore, the emerging high-tech industry represented by electronic information, biological engineering, new materials and others has also developed rapidly"

Quantitative Data:

95% of all of the estimated 4000 known individual Siberian Cranes in the world stop at Poyang Lake in the winter

500,000 birds migrate through Poyang Lake every year

Nanchang is the largest industrial city in Jiangxi province

Nanchang is one of the most polluted cities in China with an average yearly PM 2.5 level of 69.1, and an average daily maximum PM 2.5 level of 255

Explanation and Analysis:

Based on the above statistics and facts, it can be inferred that small fishing and farming counties and the government installing too many dams, rather than Nanchang’s development encroaching on the lake cause most of Poyang Lake’s environmental problems.

According to an article written by the Global Nature Fund regarding Poyang Lake’s biggest environmental problems, currently, the lakes biggest problems are agricultural pesticides poisoning birds, siltation killing birds, electric fishing techniques killing waterfowl and any other bird species in contact with the water, poverty of local farmers leading them to kill birds for food or capture and sell birds as pets, and finally, the lakes draught, caused by local people taking an unsustainable amount of water from the lake, and the government installing dams, blocking water flow to major factions of the lake. All of these problems are caused either by the Chinese government, or by small farming counties surrounding the lake, not directly by Nanchang City. It’s the local farmers causing spreading pesticides, the dams installed by the Chinese government polluting the lake with silt, the local fisherman electrocuting the water birds, and judging by the fact that the average income of Nanchang residents is significantly higher than that of the local villagers, I’m presuming that it is also mainly the more local people killing and capturing the bird species as well.

According to a separate article written by the Global Nature Fund this time regarding the third annual World Economic Conference talks about how the conference was held in Nanchang, and the theme of the conference was how densely populated regions near lakes can balance the interests of the many people living in the area with the interests of the complex and often environmentally important ecosystems based on the lake. This shows that Nanchang is taking steps in the direction of trying to protect Poyang Lake, or that it is at least aware of the fact that Poyang Lake is an environmentally important place, also showing that Nanchang may be creating fewer problems for Poyang Lake than many other places in the lakes vicinity.

My own account of the state of Poyang Lake and Nanchang also describe the most prominent (at least visually) issues affecting the lake as being quite visibly polluted by garbage and the tubes used for collecting water for the local counties, both issues in which local farmers, fisherman and village people from the nearby Duchung county and other small counties like it are more likely than the people of Nanchang to be the culprits.

Nanchang is not totally innocent in the degradation of Poyang Lake’s ecosystem however. Based on the facts that Nanchang is Jiangxi’s largest industrial city that has, according to Nanchang’s official, government created website’s page regarding the city’s economy “developed rapidly and formed the modern industrial system composed of aircraft manufacturing, automobile manufacturing, metallurgy, electro-mechanics, textile, chemical engineering, medicine and others; furthermore, the emerging high-tech industry represented by electronic information, biological engineering,” and has one of the highest air pollution rates in all of China’s major cities, Nanchang has most likely had a huge effect on Poyang Lake’s air quality. Since air quality has a comparatively low effect on bird life and lake health than many of the other problems caused primarily by the local county inhabitants and the Chinese government’s dam builders, I believe it is still safe to say that Nanchang’s development has had a minimal effect on Poyang Lake’s ecosystem.  

Comment Stream