China's boom is killing sea that gives it life, warn scientists

A A A

China's spectacular economic boom will mean the death of its major economic and maritime hub, the Bohai sea, unless action is taken to stop industrial pollution of its waters, environmental advisers said yesterday.

The warnings, yet another example of the crisis gripping the world's fastest-growing major economy, come as China tries to balance its desire for economic growth with the need to avoid environmental catastrophe.

"Almost no river that flows into the Bohai sea is clean," Liu Quanfang, an adviser to the annual National People's Congress, told the Xinhua news agency, adding that the sea could be "dead" within 12 years if urgent action is not taken to clean its waters.

The Bohai, which is among only 12 internal seas in the world, and the largest in the People's Republic, has 26 cities in its hinterland, including three of China's megacities, the capital Beijing, Tianjin and Shenyang.

Known as "the fish storehouse" because of the habitat it provides for many rare migratory species, the Bohai is also one of China's most high-profile environmental blackspots, along with the Yangtze delta and the Pearl river delta.

China's coastal regions have enjoyed the lion's share of burgeoning economic growth of recent years but they are also producing staggering quantities of waste. Factories and cities clustered along the shore of the Bohai sea, formerly known as the Gulf of Chihli, dump tons of pollutants into the bay, poisoning spawning grounds for many species of fish while companies harvest gold, said Mr Liu, an adviser from Liaoning.

There are about 100 ports along its 2,350 miles of coastline, including Shandong, Hebei and Liaoning provinces, and the Bohai sea joins the open sea between China and the Korean peninsula, major population centres catered for by the Bohai's sprinkling of recreation areas.

But many beaches have recently closed due to regular "red tides", huge algae blooms which last several days and swamp vast areas of sea with dangerous levels of toxins that can prove lethal for shellfish, for which the Bohai is famed, and other sea creatures. Between 1990 and 2004, there were 83 "red tides" in the Bohai sea. About 2.8 billion tons of contaminated water is dumped into the 31,200-square-mile body of water every year.

More than a third of Bohai's water falls short of even basic clean-water standards, and some reports show 80 per cent of sea areas near effluent outlets were heavily polluted.

China's economy is simmering, expanding by 8 per cent every year, with growth fuelled by huge output from the factories of the eastern coastal regions. The price of this growth - environmental devastation on a massive scale is clear to see. Industrial megacities continue to dump pollutants into the rivers; China's State Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) reckons half of the offshore seawater in China has been poisoned and is "not optimistic" on the marine environment. Air pollution is blamed for the premature death of 400,000 Chinese every year, and crop returns are steadily decreasing in quantity and quality because of polluted land and water.

There are even signs that the negative impact of pollution on human health is leading to outbursts of social unrest from those citizens who suffer the most from the downsides of China's economic boom.

Barely any of the 40 rivers flowing into the Bohai sea is clean, including the mighty Yellow river, China's second-longest. In January this year, the eastern Chinese province of Shandong lifted a pollution alarm on the Yellow river after a 66-mile-long diesel slick flowed into the Bohai.

"Pollution has caused extinctive damage to marine organisms in the sea," said Mr Liu, a member of a parliamentary body called the National Committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

"No large throng of any variety of fish, crab and testacean can be spotted in the sea now, and the whole of the spawning area in the sea was polluted."

Some marine varieties were losing their ability to reproduce and could soon be extinct, he added. An anti-pollution campaign was launched in 2002 but seems to be making little progress. A third of the projects scheduled have not started, and many others have been abandoned because of lack of money.

Xie Kechang, an expert from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said there needed to be a unified, co-ordinated response.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bathroom Showroom Customer Service / Sales Assistant

£14560 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Even though their premises have...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Manager

£44000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Marketing company based in cent...

Recruitment Genius: IT Installation / Commissioning Engineer - North West

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Installation / Commission...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence