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China: Navigation Improvement Project Keeps Environmental Protection in Mind

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Reuse of the dredged sediments

The setting sun paints the sky and sea in red and orange. Tiny pieces of broken seashells glitter in the vast sandy beach.  This is the location of the Putou Operation Area of the Meizhou Bay Port. This 1,200-square-meters land has been filled with dredged sediments from the Meizhou Bay Navigation Improvement Project, and six berths for ships will be built here.

Supported by a $50 million loan from the World Bank, the project seeks to widen and deepen 21.5 kilometers of the existing main channel through dredging and rock blasting. Managing the disposal of large amounts of dredged sediments and debris was a challenge.

“The traditional way is to dump it into the ocean.  But it would cause pollution of the ocean. So we used the dredged sediments to backfill the land area behind the port, and turned the waste into something useful,” said Chen Jianxin, a division chief from the project management office.

Reusing the dredged sediments, estimated at 16 million cubic meters, could save up to RMB100 million ($15 million), said Zhao Xiangchao, manager of the Putou Operation Area.

Mitigating the environmental impact

The dredging of the navigation channel has major environmental impacts on bottom-dwelling organisms such as worms, clams, crabs and lobsters, and aquatic habitats, coastal mudflats, water quality and marine hydrodynamics. In addition to mitigation measures, an ecological compensation plan has been carefully designed, which includes a fish reproduction and release program, and a habitats restoration program for planting mangroves.

In the fish reproduction and release program, five fast-growing native fish and shrimp species with high economic value have been selected and bred in a hatchery under the supervision of the Fujian Fisheries Research Institute. These are released in batches during a five-year period.

The fourth release event took place on August 11, 2017 on the coast of Quanzhou. A researcher from the fishery institute conducted a sample count of the tiny shrimps brought in from the hatchery before these were loaded onto fishing boats and released into the sea.  About 150 million baby shrimps was released that day, and researchers will monitor and carry out follow-up surveys to assess the effects of the program later.

The program is welcomed by the local fishing communities. An increase in fishery resources leads to more catches and therefore more income. A fisherwoman who joined the release work said there are now more fishes than before.

The 950-year-old Luoyang Bridge in Quanzhou is the first stone bay bridge built in China, and is one of the country’s four most famous ancient bridges. Near the bridge are large areas of lush green mangroves.  A few egrets can be seen resting or searching for food among the trees. These mangroves are part of the Quanzhou Bay Estuary Wetland Nature Reserve.

“Under the project, we have planted 558 mu (372,000 square meters) of mangroves inside our reserve,” said Lai Xingkai, an engineer from the reserve.

Mangroves play an important role in coastal protection.  Lai listed their three major benefits: they can improve water quality, reduce pollution and eutrophication (over-enrichment of water by nutrients), and prevent red tides; they can reduce waves and strengthen dikes; and they provide a home to birds and coastal animals.

“Our workers are all hired from the nearby villages, and familiar with local conditions. We have more than 40 regular workers to maintain the mangroves,” Lai said.

Chen Chunfang, a local resident in the Zeng’an Village, looks after the mangroves as a part-time job. Every day, she would drive around the mangroves and stop any activity that may be harmful to the trees.  “With the mangroves, the environment has become so much better, and there are so many birds now, particularly in the morning,” said Chen.

Close attention has been paid to the protection of the environment during the project’s implementation, with more than RMB30 million ($4.55 million) invested in environmental measures. Engineering design was optimized to reduce the disposal area; special staff were assigned to supervise environmental compliance of contractors; related training courses were organized; intensive environmental quality and impact monitoring was conducted; and independent environmental consultants were engaged to assess the implementation of the environmental management plans and provide technical guidance and support.

Improving connectivity and creating jobs

Located between Quanzhou and Putian in the middle of the coast of Fujian Province, the Meizhou Bay Port is a major bulk port, handling approximately 40 million tons of freight in 2010 at 46 berths spread over four port areas. The main commodities handled are crude oil, building materials, coal and oil products, as well as iron ore, grain, and timber. It is also the closest port to some of the inland provinces.

Upon completion of the project in 2019, the main navigation channel will be upgraded to a 300,000 DWT (deadweight tonnage) standard that will allow for unidirectional tide-independent navigation of Q-MAX LNG (liquefied natural gas) ships, as well as unidirectional tide-dependent navigation of bulk cargo ships up to 400,000 DWT, the world’s largest bulk vessels.

The development of the Meizhou Bay Port will reduce the land transport distance and improve transport connectivity between the land-locked provinces of western Fujian, Jiangxi and Hunan and the ports and cities of the more dynamic coastal region, thus boosting the growth of the underdeveloped inland regions.

Domestic and international shipping companies, as well as the nearby industries that are heavy users of the port such as petrochemicals, power generation, timber processing and grain milling will directly benefit from improved navigation conditions.

Sinochem Quanzhou Petrochemical Co. operates five berths for import and export of crude oil and petroleum products.  Zhang Huaiguo, a manager from the company’s storage and transportation department, expects the project to reduce ships’ waiting time outside the port.

CNOOC Fujian LNG Co runs an LNG (liquefied natural gas) port. The current capacity of the navigation channel only allows 66,000 cubic meter LNG tankers. “Growing demand for LNG in the domestic market requires larger tankers, for example, 217,000 cubic meter Q-Flex tankers. Larger tankers would reduce transportation costs substantially,” said Xu Guoyang, a manager of the company’s production and operation department.

Xu’s words were also echoed by Yang Jin, a deputy engineering manager of the Luoyu Port, a large iron ore port under construction. “Ships of the future will be larger, because larger ships are more environment-friendly and cost-effective,” said Yang.

The port and associated industries have employed more than 30,000 people, with additional jobs provided by the upstream and downstream industries spawned by petrochemical and energy industries, benefiting the local communities.

Sharing knowledge and strengthening capacities

“The involvement of the World Bank has brought us international experience and best practices,” said Yu Junqi, a deputy director of the project management office. “The project has provided opportunities for knowledge sharing with peers in and outside China, by organizing study tours to major international ports such as Hamburg, Rotterdam and Esbjerg, and inviting experts from Germany and Singapore to give training and technical assistance. This has helped strengthen the capacities of the port authority,” he said.

Contributing to the Belt and Road Initiative

By 2020, the Meizhou Bay Port is expected to increase the number of productive berths from 50 to 90 with handling capacity reaching 200 million tons, and have the channel capacity for the world’s largest bulk carriers to enter. The port authority is also developing several logistics parks and a bulk goods trading platform, and seeking partnerships with other domestic and international sea ports, committed to play a greater role for the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, according to its director Li Qing.

World Bank

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Floods in Europe, Turkey, China and India

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The residents of Erfurt in Thuringia, where Martin Luther lived and studied, had never seen anything like it.  The main street became a raging river washing away parked cars and anything else besides that emerged from flooded first floors.

The flooding in northwest Germany and Belgium as the gentle meandering Ahr River transformed into a torrent, overflowing its banks and devastating this wine producing region stunned  Angela Merkel  by the extent of damage in the towns and valleys.  Close by in Schuld nearly half of the houses are completely destroyed, many simply disappeared, washed away, and the rest suffered serious damage.

West of Cologne, the Erft River submerged streets and houses in Blessem.  The sides of a gravel pit gave way as it filled with water and parts of a castle and several houses collapsed into the huge hole.  Southwest of Cologne in the Eifel region, the charming old-world tower of Ban Munstereifel was inundated and the charming pedestrian mall lined with centuries old buildings was ripped up by the waters.

The story was repeated in Liege, Belgium’s third largest city, as the Meuse River spilled over its banks and into the city turning the streets into rushing waters and carrying away cars, furniture and unfortunately, people.  The river had risen by about 10 feet in one day.  Almost all of Belgium was under flood alert as other rivers rose.  By the time it was over at least 20 had died, many were missing and the prime minister had declared a day of mourning.

Across the channel, a fierce storm flooded West London and affected subway tunnels bringing transport to a stop.  Again, roads turned into rivers as a month’s rain fell in one day.  Affecting large portions of southern England, it flooded rail lines even in Southampton.

Earlier in the month, tropical storm Elsa flooded subways in parts of New York.  Meanwhile, torrential rains have flooded subways in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, trapping passengers.

The rains have battered the Chinese province for almost a week.  Home to more than 99 million, the region has suffered an estimated $190 million of damage.  At least 33 people are feared dead, 12 in the Zhengzhou subway when it was flooded.  Terrified survivors on Line 5 report water slowly rising up to their necks as they stood on the seats.  Dams have burst, reservoirs have overflowed as have rivers, affecting almost a half billion people according to People’s Daily. 

Catastrophic floods in Artvin Province in Turkey, this week repeat the story.  Cars washed away down streets turned into torrents when the cities of Artvin and Arhavi were inundated.  Also this week in India the monsoon season in Maharashtra has brought extremely heavy rains with flooding. 

The terms being used for these floods are ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ or ‘once-in-a-thousand-year events.  But the coincidence of so many of these across the globe begs the question of whether the climate crisis has altered the norm.  Will another of these ‘thousand-year’ events hit us next year or decade?  Time will tell.  Our hearts go out to the people who are suffering… those who have lost loved ones and those who have lost what they owned and their peace of mind.

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Climate change could spark floods in world’s largest desert lake

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UNEP/Duncan Moore / 19 Jul 2021

For years it appeared as though Lake Turkana, which sits in an arid part of northern Kenya, was drying up.

Its main river inflows had been muffled by dams and many feared water levels were poised to drop by two-thirds, causing the lake to cleave into two smaller bodies of water. It was, one report said, an African “Aral Sea disaster in the making” – where only 10 per cent remains of the original sea.

But a new study from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) predicts a far wetter future for Lake Turkana – and possibly a more perilous one for the 15 million people who live on its shores.

The report found that over the next 20 years, climate change could likely lead to heavier rains over Lake Turkana’s river inflows, which would raise water levels in the lake itself and increase the likelihood of severe flooding.

The study urged officials in Kenya and Ethiopia, which both border Lake Turkana, to prepare for a future in which once-rare floods, such as those that hit the region in 2019 and 2020, are regular occurrences.

“Many people think that climate change is a problem for the future,” says Frank Turyatunga, Deputy Head of UNEP’s Africa Office. “But as Lake Turkana shows, it’s happening now and it’s already forcing people to adapt to new conditions.”

Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, is part of the Omo-Turkana basin, which stretches into four countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda. The basin is home to many rare plants and animals.

Since 1988, Ethiopia has built a series of hydroelectric dams on its main tributary, the Omo River, leading to predictions of Lake Turkana’s demise.

Climate projections

Using sophisticated water resources modelling and climate change scenario analysis, the new UNEP report found that up to eight human settlements around the lake could be inundated by flooding periodically. While severe, abrupt flooding has been rare, climate change projections foresee this becoming more regular and impacting more people if adaptation measures are not put in place.

The report called for improved international cooperation and adaptation measures, including reforestation, agroforestry and avoiding construction in areas at risk of flooding.

“In the last two years, rising water levels in Lake Turkana have damaged pastureland, inundated buildings and forced people to flee their homes,” says Tito Ochieng, Director of Water in Kenya’s Turkana County. ”But there is still a mindset in Kenya that lake water levels are constantly falling, which makes planning difficult.”

The study also found evidence of rising water levels in the eight lakes that line Kenya’s Rift Valley. Severe flooding in those lakes in 2019 and 2020 damaged homes and infrastructure – and even reportedly led to a spike in deadly crocodile attacks.

Africa stands out disproportionately as the most vulnerable region in the world to climate change. This vulnerability is driven by the prevailing low levels of socioeconomic growth in the continent. While climate change is global, the poor are disproportionately vulnerable to its effects.

UNEP’s climate change work in Africa supports countries to implement their climate action commitments – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – to meet food security, create income and opportunities for youth, and economic expansion.

Regional cooperation

The report was part of a wider project designed to accelerate cooperation in the border areas between Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

The project also developed an open-source information portal on the basin, based in part on satellite imagery. It contains data on land cover, water quality and soil moisture, and examines the various climate change scenarios.

The report follows the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, a global push to revive natural spaces. It is also part of UNEP’s wider work to monitor and restore freshwater ecosystems worldwide, supporting Sustainable Development Goal 6.

UN Environment

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Six things you can do to bring back mangroves

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Don’t be fooled by their modest appearance: mangroves are important players in some of the greatest challenges facing the world today. They provide a defense between land and sea, absorb carbon, contribute to economic and food security, and are home to some of the most rare and colourful species.

But mangroves are disappearing at an accelerating rate.In some areas of the Western Indian Ocean region – one of the two most important global mangrove hotspots, together with Southeast Asia – more than 80 per cent of mangroves have already been lost.

The United Nations (UN) Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is a global rallying cry to change our relationship with nature – from degradation to restoration. Here are six things you can do to start bringing back mangroves today.

1. Understand the importance of mangroves.

Only with healthy ecosystems can we enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change, and stop the collapse of biodiversity.

UNEP research shows that mangrove ecosystems underpin global and local economies, by supporting fisheries, providing other food sources and protecting coastlines. In fact, every hectare of mangrove forest represents an estimated US$33–57,000 per year.  

They’re also important protectors – sheltering land and coastal communities from storms, tsunamis, rising sea levels and erosion. And with the world at risk of a temperature rise of over 3°C this century, mangroves are also an invaluable ally in the race to adapt. They extract up to five times more carbon from the atmosphere than forests on land, and protecting mangroves is 1000 times less expensive, per kilometer, than building seawalls.

Learn more about mangrove ecosystems in this short video; and their role in climate change adaptation in this animation.

2. Understand what is driving their loss.

Home to forty per cent of the world’s population, coastlines are among the most densely-populated areas on Earth. Consequent development of coastlines – clearing mangrove forests to create space for buildings, and to farm fish and shrimp – is the main driver of mangrove loss. Worldwide, this has caused the loss of 20 per cent of mangrove ecosystems. 

Pollution also plays a role. Because they form a protective line between coasts and ocean, mangroves are effectively a “plastic trap”. When plastic bags and litter cover roots and sediment layers, it can starve mangroves of oxygen; and can harm sea animals.

3. Make sustainable choices.

The choices we make are a powerful way to express our values and to affect consumption and demand. Ask questions about the food you consume; choose foods that are sustainably sourced; say no to single-use plastic and reduce consumption in general.   

Learn more about what you can do through the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Clean Seas campaign, and see examples of restoration supportive choices in the Ecosystem Restoration Playbook.

4. Learn how restoration works.

Before planting new mangroves, it is important to understand the cause of forest degradation or disappearance. In the case of pollution, over-harvesting or other causes that can be eliminated, mangroves can recover naturally.

When recovery requires human intervention, it is important to follow key steps, like involving local communities, selecting native seedlings and establishing a functioning nursery. To learn more, see UNEP’s Guidelines on Mangrove Ecosystem Restoration, which elaborate each step of the process.

5. Be an advocate and an activist.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, you can begin to take action today. Discuss the importance of mangroves with your friends, family, colleagues and networks. Share information, images and ideas that inspire you.

If you’re not sure where to start, find inspiration in what others are doing. In Kenya and Madagascar, communities have recognized the contribution of mangroves to their own livelihoods and are actively participating in carbon monitoring, reforestation and education to prevent exploitation and ensure the livelihoods of future generations.

To get ideas about actions that could be right for you, play this game; and go to the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration Implementers Hub to find out how others are taking the lead in this work.

6. Make some noise.

Despite the scale of the challenge, there are solutions; and some governments are already taking action. Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have prioritized mangrove restoration through the Caribbean Biological Corridor initiative; and in Cuba, mangrove forests still cover 70 per cent of the coastline. Pakistan has committed to planting 10 billion trees by 2023 in an initiative led by Prime Minister Imran Khan and supported by UNEP, and millions – if not billions – of these trees will be mangroves. Restoration pledges from other countries can be found here.

UN Environment

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