Hordes of tourists damaging Chinese salt lake’s pristine environment with discarded plastic

The lake known as the “Mirror of the Sky”, attracted millions of visitors in the first half of 2018

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 3:55pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 4:20pm

Cleaners at a natural salt lake known as the “Mirror of the Sky” in western China are collecting up to 12 tonnes of rubbish a day during the peak tourist season.

The refuse around Chaka Salt Lake – mostly plastic shoe covers – is discarded by inconsiderate tourists to the popular attraction, Beijing Youth Daily reported on Tuesday and is damaging the natural environment.

The lake is situated in Ulan county, Haixi autonomous prefecture, in western China’s Qinghai province. The blue skies reflected off the surface of the crystallised saline water have given it the name “Mirror of the Sky”, and it attracted millions of tourists in the first half of 2018.

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Footage uploaded by tourists and shared widely online, shows a boardwalk on the edge of the lake packed with people. And there are large quantities of discarded plastic, including shoe covers, on the ground.

A broadcast announcement asking people to throw rubbish in bins is largely ignored. Visitors are required to wear the customised biodegradable shoe covers before entering the area around the lake in order to alleviate the pressure on the environment. Around 180 cleaners are deployed at the beauty spot from 6am to 10.30pm and collect up to 12 tonnes of refuse every day.

“Lots of people have discarded the used shoe covers,” a tourist visiting the lake told Beijing Youth Daily.

During the peak season, around 40,000 people visit every day. Local officials decided from July 15 to cap visitor numbers to the lake, with a daily quota of 50,000, in order to protect the natural environment and provide a better experience for tourists.

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The lake was closed to the public several times in 2016 and 2017 for improvement and restoration work, and to limit the damage done by humans.

Ulan county government, which is responsible for the Chaka Salt Lake area, has vowed to strengthen enforcement action against peddlers who are selling plastic shoe covers that are not biodegradable.