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China

Environmental Devastation In Bohai Gulf, China’s 'Cradle' Of Fishing

As industrial development booms along the northeast coast, stretches of waterways are being destroyed by massive pollution. Attempts to cover up the damage in Bohai Gulf failed, and both local fishermen and environmental activists are demanding better pro

A bridge over the Bohai Gulf (gaobo)
A bridge over the Bohai Gulf (gaobo)
Chung Ang

The innermost bay of the Yellow Sea on the northeastern coast of China, the semi-enclosed Bohai Gulf, used to be known as the country's "cradle of fishery," once accounting for 40% of China's fishing output. Now, in ecological terms, it is dying a rapid death that mirrors the region's breakneck economic development.

According to the "Tianjin Marine Environmental Quality Bulletin," none of the three coastal water monitoring sites near Tianjin, the major city of the area, meets the water requirement standard for marine life protection and secure human use. China's State Oceanic Administration official was even more blunt: "Bohai has basically lost its function as a fishery."

With significant oil and gas reserves in the adjacent region, Tianjin was chosen by Chinese authorities in 2006 as the third national pilot area for development, after the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in Guangdong, and the Shanghai Pudong New Area.

With Bohai's emerging economy, water quality has plummeted. While the GDP of the area rose nearly 40% between 2005 and 2010, the polluted area has also risen from 15 to 22% of this inland sea zone that totals 77,000 square kilometers, with an average depth of less than 20 meters. The natural rate for water recycling is some 60 years (some experts say it's as much as 200 years).

Along parts of Bohai's shoreline, including Jinzhou Bay, zinc levels have been detected as high as 2000 times the safe standard, while lead readings were 300 percent above acceptable levels.

Attempted coverups

Among the industrial sectors in full swing, local governments tend to favor the heavy chemical industry, as it accounts for the largest GDP contribution and longest industrial chain and job creator.

The pollution related to the petrochemical industry, though proportionally small, will cause the most severe damage to the region's marine ecosystem over the long term since the ocean itself cannot break down heavy metals like lead and cadmium.

This year alone, serious oil spills caused by the two major petrochemical exploiters of the region – China's National Oil Corporation and its joint venture partner - America's ConocoPhillips -- have occurred three times in a two-month span. The Chinese authorities tried to cover up the disaster but the public learned of the news from the foreign press, and were duly outraged.

Currently, 80% of Bohai's pollution comes from the land surrounding the gulf, and is piped into the gulf by three waterways including the Yellow River. Sources include agriculture fertilizer and pesticides, industrial wastewater and urban sewage effluent discharge.

The effects are devastating, with the industrial destruction of China's largest land reclamation project site and vast wetland areas and tidal flats, which serve as nature's purification organs through settlement, filtration and decomposition of major polluting elements. The coastline region traditionally has had an economy based on fishing, and countless residents risk seeing their livelihoods quickly evaporate.

Read the original article in Chinese

photo- gaobo

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