For thousands of years, the Yangtze River has sustained Chinese civilization. Four hundred million people — more than the population of the United States — depend on the Yangtze for freshwater. The Yangtze is also the world's third-longest river and China’s principal waterway, and its rushing waters are electrifying the world’s fastest-growing economy.
From its source on the Tibetan Plateau, the magnificent Yangtze descends rapidly, stretching almost 4,000 miles as it surges through mountain valleys, cuts through limestone gorges and winds past lowlands to empty into the ocean at the port of Shanghai. But as non-sustainable development in China has increased, the health of the Yangtze River has deteriorated, leaving extraordinary aquatic species like the finless porpoise, Chinese alligator, sturgeon and paddlefish imperiled (or even extinct) and threatening the health and safety of the people living near and dependent on the river. This system suffers from numerous threats, including:
As China’s energy needs escalate, the government plans to build 12 new large dams on the Yangtze to join the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower facility. Without conservation-minded scientific expertise, these dams would likely lead to the demise of the Yangtze’s aquatic life, including fish that supply the main source of protein for tens of millions of Chinese people. The Nature Conservancy is working to find a balance between humans and the ecological health of the Yangtze River, one that sustains both humans and nature.
As one of the world’s leading freshwater conservation organizations, The Nature Conservancy is working with the Chinese government, major hydropower companies and other nonprofit organizations to develop sustainable alternatives to the design and operation of dams planned for the Yangtze River. The project has completed a detailed plan that optimizes electricity production and flood control while minimizing harm to the river’s aquatic ecosystems. Implementation of this plan will provide the following:
To date, the Three Gorges Dam has already released flows according to the Conservancy’s recommendations to trigger breeding in downstream carp populations. As this plan would involve significant management changes to China’s most important waterway, its details are currently being discussed and refined by relevant authorities. The Conservancy continues to work with these authorities with hopes that this plan will become a model for sustainable hydropower development and ecosystem restoration for the rest of the world to emulate.
The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Blueprint — a painstaking scientific analysis of China’s ecosystems — is helping to guide future conservation along the Yangtze. A comprehensive study of the Yangtze river basin played into the central government’s recent National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which will guide environmental progress in China for years to come.