Harbin’s New Edge

By leveraging advantageous wetland resources and relentlessly protecting wetlands, Harbin became one of the world’s first “International Wetland Cities”

Rippling reeds and hovering river gulls highlight the beautiful scenery of the original ecological wetland at the Heilongjiang Hadong Yanjiang Wetlands Nature Reserve. In 2020, the nature reserve was included on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Harbin, capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, is known as “Ice City” due to its long and cold winters and vigorously-developed ice and snow culture. In recent years, Harbin has built a wetland tourism brand by virtue of its unique ecological resources. With a formerly degraded wetland now restored, the environmental and ecological functions of the Harbin section of the Songhua River have been fully implemented, and the beautiful wetland has become a new attraction of “Ice City.”

Harbin Cultural Center Wetland Park, Heilongjiang Province. (WANG JIANWEI)

Hadong Yanjiang Wetlands

The Hadong Yanjiang Wetlands, located in Harbin’s Daowai District on the southern bank of the Songhua River, is an important part of the wetlands on Songnen Plain. The wetlands nature reserve is a long and narrow strip that covers a total area of 9,973.62 hectares, 79.6 percent of which are wetlands mainly consisting of riverine wetlands, marshes, and swamp meadows. The nature reserve’s targets for protection are the wetlands and water ecosystem composed of waterfowl, aquatic animals, amphibians, and their habitats. And the wetlands and water ecosystem have played an important role in purifying water quality, conserving water resources, regulating climate, regulating floods, maintaining regional ecological balance, and ensuring ecological security.

The Hadong Yanjiang Wetlands is a migratory area for birds from East Asia to Australia, and an important resting place and breeding ground for Northeast Asian fowl. During the spring and autumn migration seasons, more than 20,000 waterfowl stop there including oriental white storks, redcrowned cranes, and other endangered and rare birds. In the past, generation after generation lived in the area, subsisting on farming or herding. However, after the lower reaches of the Songhua River were dammed in 2006 to create the Dadingzishan Reservoir, the water level in the Songhua River urban section rose significantly, causing most of arable land to go underwater and creating large flooded wetlands.

To protect the ecological resources and biodiversity of the Hadong Yanjiang Wetlands and solve the livelihood problems of land-lost villagers, a business model of developing wetland tourism based on government policies, collective investment, and equity participation by villagers was launched. In February 2010, the Heilongjiang Provincial Government approved establishment of the Heilongjiang Hadong Yanjiang Wetlands Nature Reserve to utilize the rich ecological resources of the wetlands and the stunning landscapes of Daowai District.

The villagers drastically increased their awareness of wetland protection and gave up heavy hunting of birds and fish in favor of spontaneously protecting the wetland, patrolling it, and discouraging damaging behavior. Protection of wetland ecological resources has reached the next level. The innovative attempt to rationally develop and utilize wetland resources has achieved promising results.

Enhancing Wetland Protection

Wetlands, forests, and oceans are known as the planet’s three major ecosystems. Wetlands have been called “the cradle of life” and “kidney of the Earth.” Harbin is rich in wetland resources. According to List of Wetlands in Heilongjiang, Harbin has a wetland area of 198,700 hectares including 166,700 hectares of riverine wetland, 9,000 hectares of marsh, 15,000 hectares of constructed wetlands, and 8,000 hectares of river and lake wetlands.

The booming natural endowment demands even more respect and care. In recent years, Harbin has strengthened ecological environment protection through wetland protection and restoration. The Harbin Municipal People’s Government established a Wetland Protection Leading Group, organized the Harbin Wetlands Protection Association, and set up a three-level wetland management and protection linkage mechanism. The Harbin Wetlands Education Center partners with the city’s primary and secondary schools to popularize wetland science and education. The municipal government also organized compilation and implementation of the Harbin Medium and Long-Term Plan of Wetland Protection. In terms of wetland management, Harbin has made considerable progress. So far, more than 3,000 hectares of arable land have been converted to wetland and about 100 million yuan (US$15.5 million) has been invested in wetland protection and construction at various levels.

In 2019, Harbin issued the Work Plan for Protection and Restoration of Wetland Ecological Resources in Harbin in an effort to restore and comprehensively improve concentrated, seriously fragmented, and functionally degraded natural wetlands, with priority given to national and provincial wetlands with seriously degraded ecological function. According to the Work Plan, the ecological function of wetlands should be gradually restored by means of pollution control, land rectification, and pest control. Natural restoration is preferred, and artificial restoration is the backup.

So far, Harbin has built eight wetland-based provincial nature reserves with a total area of approximately 101,700 hectares and 16 wetland parks totaling more than 20,000 hectares including 13 national wetland parks and three provincial ones. Each wetland has a different landscape. A series of wetland tourism products such as wetland ecology, themed cruises, and urban recreation have begun to emerge. Wetland tourism has become an attraction to summer tourists in Harbin. In 2018, Harbin was honored by the Ramsar Convention as one of the world’s first “International Wetland Cities,” an internationally recognized honor for urban wetland ecological protection.

There are many rigid thresholds for qualification as an “International Wetland City.” For example, the wetland rate in the administrative area must be above 10 percent, and the wetland protection rate must be above 50 percent. Harbin is one of Chinese major cities with the largest and most concentrated wetland areas. The proportion of wetland in the total area of Harbin is much higher than the 10 percent threshold required by the Wetland City Accreditation of the Ramsar Convention. Harbin stood out in selection by virtue of its advantageous wetland resource endowment and unremitting protection of wetland.

Becoming an “International Wetland City” can kindle attention from the international community to help in the protection of Harbin’s wetlands. Under the supervision of the Wetland City Accreditation of the Ramsar Convention, Harbin will better promote coordinated urban wetland protection and socioeconomic development and promote scientific standardization and internationalization of wetland protection and management.

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