Will Shanghai have its own national park?

Larrissa Leung Xu Qing
China has officially established its first group of five national parks, Shanghai not included. As an international city, can and should it have one?
Larrissa Leung Xu Qing

China has officially established its first group of five national parks, in a move announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping at a key UN conservation summit held in Kunming this week.

The parks include Sanjiangyuan, as well as parks for giant pandas, Siberian tigers, Amur leopards, the Hainan tropical rainforest, Wuyi Mountain, as well as many others, covering more than 230,000 square kilometers, and nearly 30 percent of the key terrestrial wildlife species found in China.

However, there was no mention of Shanghai.

This begs the questions – as an international city, will there ever be a national park in Shanghai?

But first, what constitutes a "national park?"

According to China's general plan released in 2017 for establishing a national park system, national parks are designed to protect nationally representative natural ecosystems and promote the rational use and protection of natural resources, both on land and on water.

Though easily confused, national parks greatly differ from nature reserves. Here's why.

Compared with traditional nature reserves, national parks serve to be the most important part of China's natural ecosystem, featuring the most unique natural landscapes, natural heritage and biodiversity. National parks fulfill that purpose – by protecting the true authenticity and integrity of the ecosystem.

Will Shanghai have its own national park?
Dong Jun / SHINE

The 265-square-kilometer wetland bird area in the Dongtan reserve on Shanghai's Chongming Island is a stopover point for about 3 million birds on the Asia-Pacific migratory route every year.

National parks are in tight management and are prohibited from open development, subjecting them to the strictest protection.

One possible site for Shanghai is the Yangtze River estuary wetland.

"As the main part of the estuary is in Shanghai, this would serve as an optimal place to become the city's first national park," remarked Wang Min, director of the Applied Ecology Research Institute at the Shanghai Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.

Presently, the main parts of the wetland in the Yangtze River estuary wetland – Chongming Dongtan national nature reserve and the Jiuduansha wetland nature reserve – have been included in the top-level ecological protection areas.

This strictly protected area is also rich in biodiversity.

Data from 2017, 2018 and 2019 shows that the number of bird species in the Chongming Dongtan ecological rehabilitation zone has increased significantly. These include 10 species of rare and endangered birds such as the Oriental white stork, young swan, red-headed pochard, black-billed gull and the black-faced spoonbills.

Many rare bird species now migrate to Chongming to "settle down" or take the island as a "stopover site" to rest. Chongming Island has become a paradise for birds, as it's home to 14 species of waterfowl that account for more than 1 percent of the global population.

Among its many features, the Yangtze River estuary has also served as the only "kindergarten" for Chinese sturgeons. With a "waiting room" and a "post-partum care site," it has become an important distribution area for protected animals like finless porpoises, and an important migration channel for fish.

Will Shanghai have its own national park?
Dong Jun / SHINE

Dongtan is a typical estuarine wetland ecosystem with biodiversity in Shanghai.

National parks should not only be regarded as a source of "protection," said Wang.

A spokesman for the National Development and Reform Commission emphasized that national parks should also promote scientific education and recreation, in addition to protection.

"Protection is not enough," said Wang. "It is necessary to also explore the transformation of ecological value and seek better solutions for the wider community to benefit from a national park."

Therefore, for the Yangtze River estuary wetland to become a national park, it is necessary to consider whether to expand existing areas and devise methods to promote scientific education and recreation without affecting the protection of biodiversity.

However, Wang warns that any expansion will open Shanghai to challenges.

As the protection of national parks is of utmost importance, the impact of expansion on coastal projects and navigation channels in Shanghai will be the biggest challenge it may face in building a national park.

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