Dredging in wetland a recipe for disaster

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2007, 12:00am

Widespread dredging has claimed a fifth of the biggest wetland in Fujian province , posing a potential threat to hundreds of thousands of nearby residents when floods strike.

In the latest encroachment, a 30-metre-wide, 200-metre-long pit was left in the Wulongjiang Wetland Park in Fuzhou last month after illegal miners snuck into the park at night and dredged for sand, Strait Metropolis News reported.

Reed beds had been uprooted and rocks and gravel scattered throughout the park, which was now devoid of birds, the report said.

The park has been a target of illegal mining since it opened in April 2003, despite repeated crackdowns, with almost a fifth of the 243-hectare area affected.

The park's management said illegal miners often came late at night when there was just one security guard on duty. The miners were so bold that once they even trapped a guard in his office while they stole the park's bronze plaque and iron warning signs.

Just two weeks ago, the park's patrol team found dozens of illegal miners dredging sand with excavators late at night, but could not do anything because they were outnumbered. They watched them escape before the police arrived.

The park used to be the most important ecological protection area in Fuzhou and hosted many protected bird species, but the deterioration caused by illegal mining meant it could no longer provide a habitat for birds of passage, the report said.

Experts said the pit, just 10 metres from a damaged dam used to control flooding, would pose a safety threat in the event of flooding.

'Illegal dredging for sand in Wulongjiang Wetland Park would not only change the coastline, affecting maritime safety, but also cause the foundations of nearby buildings to sink,' the paper quoted Yang Jiatan, a hydraulic power expert in the provincial water resources department, as saying.

A park manager told the paper the dam could collapse if a big flood struck.

Mainland authorities once held the view that 'wetland is wasteland', but have sought to protect such areas since realising that the frequent floods, droughts, and sandstorms in recent years are closely related to the shrinking of natural wetlands.