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Hainan attracts birds with new wetland park

Hainan, China's southernmost island famous for its tourism, has stepped up efforts in ecological protection, and is now attracting flocks of birds to a 3-million-square-meter wetland park.

By Zhang Jiaqi

China SCIOUpdated: November 24, 2017

Standing by a lake in a wetland park in Changjiang of Hainan Province, the man was obviously excited. "We've found a new type of bird this morning, the Black-naped Oriole, or Oriolus chinensis, so now we have 85 species of birds here."

Aerial view of the Haiwei Wetland Park in Changjiang, China's Hainan Province. [Photo/hinews.cn] 

Lyu Qingbin, one of the Project Department staff of Hainan West Coast Country Manor Ltd., is very proud of what he and the company he works have done for the local ecology, which helps create a paradise for a large variety of flora and fauna.

According to department head Zhang Lu, the park covers around 3 million square meters, with water covering more than 40 percent. The mixture of natural and artificial plants represent 198 species, while there are, as stated, 85 bird species present. The vegetation also accommodates amphibians, reptiles and other animals like squirrels.

Yet, in the past, the beautiful wetland park was not like that at all.

Woods rising from melon seedlings

"If you assumed you would only see trees and never get a hint of desert in Hainan, then you would be completely wrong," said Lyu. When his company responded to the national policy of cultivating coastal windbreak forests and began operating here in 1998, they faced saline-alkali land, dry, sandy and barren.

Since the land was not suitable for trees to grow, planting them became a headache for workers at that time. Many attempts failed until the staff, many of whom had worked previously as melon farmers, came up with the idea to grow horsetail beefwood, a tree with the scientific name of the casuarina equisetifolia, among the watermelon seedlings.

With the branches and tendrils sprawling along the ground, the watermelon seedlings helped protect the saplings from the wind and stabilized the sand; in addition, the abundant water and fertilizer needed by the watermelon seedlings could also serve the trees.

The "horsetail beefwood plus watermelon" mode not only yielded a commercial reward by providing three harvests of watermelons to sell every year, but also contributed significantly to the survival rate of the trees. In fact, the tree saplings survived and grew well.

By replicating and popularizing this operational mode over the following two decades, the company cultivated a green corridor of coastal windbreak forest extending around 40 kilometers and covering 20 million square meters along the 52.8-kilometer coastline of Changjiang, as well as other types of forests that now cover 13 million square meters.

Eden for the flora and fauna

Through nearly two decades of endeavor, a barren land where the wind always carried away walls of brown dust has been transformed into a wetland accommodating diverse vegetation and animals. Walking through the forest of horsetail beefwood now, the thick layer of the needle-like leaves on the ground feels like a soft blanket.

"Now every morning, we are not woken up by the alarm clock, instead, we have the chirping birds with their beautiful songs." Lyu said.

"And now, you can often see flocks of birds flying by, and if it is the flock of the white egret bird, it looks almost like a cloud. Sometimes, there seem to be white trees growing as they are covered with so many white birds."

The increasing number of birds is a tribute to the thriving plants in the wetland park, and more importantly, the improved ecology overall.

Now, the wetland park has become a Garden of Eden for the flora and fauna, many of which are very precious species. The 85 bird species cover 33 families, among which nine are Class II national protected species. There are 198 species of plants from 75 families, among which two are Class II national protected species.

Adding to this, there are also 25 species of butterflies from six families, 10 species of dragonflies from three families, and six species of amphibians and five species of reptiles and even the insectivorous algal in the water.

The Purple Swamp Hen (Dendrocygna Javanica) had been thought extinct, but four were found in the wetland park, growing to a current flock of over 100, Lyu said.

He pointed to the fact that some of the plants and birds depicted in the Book of Songs, the earliest poetry collection in China, dating from the 11th to 6th centuries B.C., can even be found here.

Protection always as the priority

As the ecology of the Haiwei Wetland Park becomes more favorable and systematic, visitor numbers have grown. However, the park operator has mixed feelings about this.

Rather than being managed by the government, the wetland park is actually operated by the private company Zhang and Lyu work for. A private company obviously has to consider operating costs and revenue generation, but there is concern the development of tourism would ruin the pristine nature of the park.

"The concept of the wetland park is to protect the increasingly diverse species and their habitat while developing ecotourism," Zhang said. Knowing that too many people would scare away the birds, the company plans to draw on experience from the Mai Po Wetlands in Hong Kong and strictly limit visitor access and flow, while educating them so as to develop tourism on the basis of keeping the ecology intact.

Now, the wetland park has not yet been officially opened to the public. The few guest rooms and offices in the park are all one-story structures built to fit into the existing coastal or wetland landscape. Meanwhile, large-scale vehicles are strictly prohibited from park roads.

The wetland park is planning to open bird-viewing platforms and hubs for visitors to view the birds with telescopes from long distance during the viewing season from November to March, and offer lectures to popularize awareness of protection among the tourists.

Actually, protection has not only been a principle to develop the ecotourism here, but also a priority of developing the park itself.

The Bougainvillea spectabilis, commonly known as the Triangle Flower, is Lyu's favorite flower.

"It suits the weather here, and the red flowers and thriving branches also look very nice. However, we still chose not to grow many of them here, since we are concerned that the thorns on this kind of plant would injure the birds," he explained

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