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Biodiversity and China’s new Great Wall

Choi C-Y, Jackson MV, Gallo-Cajiao E, Murray NJ, Clemens RS, Gan X & Fuller RA (2018) Biodiversity and China’s new Great Wall. Diversity and Distributions, 24, 137-143.

Coastal armouring and the reclamation of intertidal areas through the use of seawalls and other artificial structures has been practiced for thousands of years, but its recent expansion in China and elsewhere in Asia has been unprecedented in its rate and intensity. One result has been the recent loss of nearly two-thirds of tidal flats in the Yellow Sea, a globally unique ecosystem of high ecological value. The severe effects on biodiversity of the recent large-scale coastal land claim activities in China are well documented, yet some recent studies have emphasized the ecological opportunities provided by such artificial coastal infrastructure in China, in some cases suggesting that the ecological impacts of coastal infrastructure should be reconsidered due to benefits to some rocky shore species in a changing climate. This is cause for concern because, while studying the “new ecology” arising from coastal modification is useful, broad conclusions around the ecological role or conservation gains from seawall construction without adequate contextualization underplays the ecological consequences of large-scale coastal land claim, and could potentially undermine efforts to achieve biodiversity conservation. Here, we clarify the characteristics of seawall construction in China and summarize the environmental damage and some broadscale impacts caused by this type of infrastructure expansion on the endangered Yellow Sea tidal flats ecosystem. We also highlight the urgent need for all coastal development plans to consider how coastal wetlands and ecosystem functionality can be maximally retained within the development precinct.

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