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Marine Conservation Assessment in China


Principal Investigator
Senior Fellow
  • William Wrigley Professor of Earth System Science
  • Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute
  • Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
  • Professor, by courtesy, Economics
Research scholar

Marine ecosystems play a vital role in China’s socio-economic development and food security. The marine economy has grown rapidly since the beginning of the21st century and has become one of the fastest growing sectors of China’s overall economy, contributing toover 9% of the country’s annual GDP in recent years. Such rapid growth has greatly improved the livelihoodsof China’s coastal and fishing populations, but it has also impacted the marine environment throughoverfishing, coastal habitat loss, and pollution. By 2009, the polluted area of China’s oceans had exceeded halfof its total offshore area. Various studies indicate that China has lost 50% of coastal wetlands, 57% of themangrove areas, and 80% of its coral reefs. An estimated 55% of fish stocks in China have been overfished.Due to the growing importance of oceans and coasts in the country’s national planning strategies (equal inimportance to the energy sector in China’s recent Five Year Plan), it is timely to assess existing and potentialecological issues that threaten the sustainable development of China’s marine environment.

This project has three key components:

I. Impacts of Land Reclamation on Coastal Environment. Competition for land resources is a prominent challenge for the development of the marine economy in China. All levels of coastal government have adopted land reclamation from seas as an effective means to expand economic andhabitable spaces. By 2008 China’s total reclamation area has reached 13,400 km2, and the demand for reclaimed land area is estimated at over 5,800 km2 by 2020. The country’s large-scale reclamation activities have far exceeded the carrying capacity of its coastal environment and have caused significant reductions of wetlands and damage to marine ecosystem functions and services in all coastal regions. This project will include the first comprehensive sustainability evaluation of land reclamation in China, including private and social profitability calculations and quantitative assessments of coastal functions and services gained and lost by land reclamation.

II. China’s domestic fisheries have experienced zero or declining growth due to overfishing, coastal habitat loss, and pollution. To help replenish depleted wild fish stocks, the Chinese government has supported numerous marine stock enhancement programs involving more than 100 different species. To date there are no systematic evaluations of the success and failures of these programs. This project will fill this knowledge gap via pre- and post-enhancement evaluations.

III. Impacts of Ecological Intensification of Aquaculture on Coastal Environment. Aquaculture accounts for roughly three-quarters of China’s fish supplies annually. Because the growth in terrestrial aquaculture is constrained by freshwater and land scarcity and environmental concerns (e.g. drinking water quality from reservoirs), scientists and policymakers in China are looking increasingly toward mariculture as an alternative to meet its targets for growth in fish supplies. Growth in shellfish, marinefinfish, and seaweed production is being promoted aggressively in China to offset pressure on near-shore fisheries in order to meet the country’s rising seafood demand. This project will include a Stanford-led study that will examine the potential impacts of large-scale mariculture infrastructure (pens, cages,and drift lines) on coastal processes and wild fisheries through the development of integrated hydrodynamic, sediment transport, and ecological models. With the direct involvement of leading aquaculture and marine scientists in China, the project aims to improve the siting and monitoring of coastal mariculture operations, and to provide policy guidance on intensive mariculture development that is compatible with the rehabilitation of wild fish stocks.