Managing Coastal Waters in China
By Timothy Hildebrandt and Jennifer L. Turner
China is a "marine nation" with its future development increasingly dependent upon coastal areas and resources. Today, coastal areas are responsible for 60 percent of China's annual gross national output. In addition to this crucial economic role, China's coastal waters boast a rich assortment of marine life. Many species, such as the Yangze River dolphin, the Chinese white dolphin, and Dugong sea lions, are unique to the country's coasts and estuaries. However, over fishing, rapid urbanization, and lack of pollution controls on industrial and agricultural activities have degraded river and coastal water quality, which in turn has devastated much of the marine habitat and threatened the marine biodiversity in China. Ultimately, this ecological destruction also poses a serious threat to coastal economic development.
Despite the pollution threats to China's coasts, there remain many economic and political roadblocks to conservation. Most notably, the integral role of the coasts in China's economic growth often conflicts with the marine conservation goals. Additionally, responsibility for coastal management has vacillated between provincial and central governments, leaving little opportunity for effective change to be made. This lack of intergovernmental coordination has meant that few laws exist to regulate development and protect biodiversity along the coasts; existing laws flounder from insufficient enforcement. One promising development has been the increasing cooperation of Chinese and international organizations in scientific investigations and policy design to better protect China's coastal resources. On 18 September 2002, the Wilson Center's ECSP China Environment Forum hosted a meeting that provided a glimpse into the history of China's coastal management and a profile of multilateral, bilateral, and nongovernmental initiatives in recent years.
The Ebb and Flow of China's Coastal Management
Before making the case for integrated coastal management and the U.S. government's cooperative activities to assist China in protecting marine areas, Jonathan Justi of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) outlined the enormous economic role played by China's coastal areas:
- China's coasts are home to approximately 500 million people—roughly 40 percent of the country's population;
- Over 50 coastal cities have populations over 100,000—several cities have achieved "mega city" status with populations exceeding eight million; and,
- Coastal areas are responsible for $50 billion (60 percent) of the annual national gross output.
The tremendous growth along China's coasts, and the subsequent strains placed upon the area's resources, has driven many Chinese and international organizations, like NOAA, to endorse integrated coastal management (ICM). While ICM is certainly not a new concept, its implementation in China is a great departure from the country's previous reliance upon centralized resource management strategies.
Historically, China has not ignored the challenges that face its coastal waters. Baruch Boxer from Resources for the Future noted that in the 1930s Chinese researchers in Qingdao undertook significant work in the field of oceanography. During the 1960s, marine ecologists in China researched the impacts of poor water quality on fish stocks in Bohai Bay. Furthermore, over the last forty years a great amount of marine science research in China examined the interconnected coastal and open ocean problems. Despite considerable research efforts to solve China's coastal problems, institutional roadblocks and the reliance upon centralized management strategies have often impeded scientific efforts to improve coastal policies. Dr. Boxer provided one telling example—in the late 1980s, several leading Chinese academics completed master's work on marine law in the United States, with the goal of building a special unit in the State Oceanic Administration to develop a coordinated national policy. Yet, when these students returned to undertake the work for which they were trained, the coastal management authority had switched from the central to the provincial level governments.
An experienced Chinese official reiterated Boxer's contention that conflicts between national and provincial interests have, in the past, made ICM implementation difficult. Following an extensive seven-year study in the 1980s on coastal resources and existing management agencies and institutions, the Chinese central government tried (in the early 1990s) to create a development program similar to ICM. Turf and other disagreement among provinces and national agencies, however, led to the program's premature end. For ICM to be effective there must not only be cooperative relationships between levels of government, but also direct participation of business leaders, analysts, scientists, and public representatives. All of these public and private sector actors must mutually agree and understand the tradeoffs and consequences of ICM. However, without basic cooperation among government agencies and lacking a legal framework for coastal management such stakeholder exchange is not possible in China.
Building a Legal Framework for Coastal Management
Beginning in the mid-1990s, the Chinese government began to create a strategic vision for coastal waters and oceans. Recognizing the faults of a centralized system, vulnerable to institutional changes, the Chinese government began to embrace the tenants of ICM in a 1996 policy document—China's Ocean Agenda 21. This document created an action framework for the protection of maritime resources, elimination of pollution, and the implementation of sustainable development. Jonathan Justi highlighted some of the key provisions of this policy:
- Oceans and coastal areas must be developed sustainably—natural habitats must be preserved;
- China must build up its marine legal system;
- Widespread public participation is crucial in coastal development and protection; and,
- Management of the coasts must be integrated.
Following the promulgation of China's Ocean Agenda 21, one of the first major steps to address China's coastal challenges was legal reform. Baruch Boxer explained that not since China's active participation in the 1950s International Law of the Sea agreement had the Chinese government devoted so much interest for marine law. Today's emphasis on marine law stems from concern for strategic and resource development. The Marine Environmental Protection Law, updated in 2000, not only addressed issues of pollution and ecological health, but also embraced the fundamentals of integrated management by explicitly outlining responsibilities for central government agencies and local governments to collectively monitor, gather data, report problems, and distribute fines. Perhaps more importantly, according to Justi, on 1 January 2002, the Sea Area Use Law took effect in China. The law, the first of its kind for China, aims to ensure that: (1) sea area use activities are in accord with zoning plans, (2) all users of the sea area are formally licensed, and (3) resources are public property, thus users must submit user fees. Additionally, the law allows for a fine regime to discourage misuse and abuse of sea areas.
Beginning in the mid-1990s assistance of multilateral organizations began to help Chinese agencies put the implementation of ICM to the test. Jonthan Justi offered several examples of projects that have sought to apply ICM in China and demonstrate the viability of preserving coastal biodiversity without threatening economic growth:
- Maritime Pollution Prevention and Control Project in South Asian Maritime Space (1994)—supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Global Environment Facility (GEF), and International Maritime Organization (IMO), this project sought to test the integrated management coordination in Xiamen. The international and Chinese project partners developed environmental profiles and management plans, established an interagency planning process, and worked to implement and enforce coastal management and monitoring programs. The project relocated shrimp pens away from major shipping lanes, developed eco-tourism opportunities, and removed aging causeways.
- Sustainable Coastal Resources Development Project (1998)—a $100 million World Bank loan, along with matching funds from the Chinese government, sought to promote sustainable coastal resources, reduce pressure on fishery resources, and improve water quality in the coastal regions of Fujian, Jiangsu, Shandong, and Liaoning provinces.
- Capacity Building for ICM in Northern South China Sea (1997)—a cooperative effort between the Chinese government and UNDP targeted sites in Hainan, Guangxi and Guangdong provinces to initiate extensive ICM initiatives. Among the project's goals was to consult all stakeholders and raise public awareness about ICM, create environmental profiles of the coastal areas, implement strategic management plans, review relevant laws, and establish an ICM center.
While these multilateral projects have stimulated more policy dialogue on ICM in China, Justi noted that the above projects have not been complete success stories. ICM programs in China, for instance, still rarely address overbuilding in new development zones; in some instances, production growth was one of the main criteria for project success.
After evaluating these three major multilateral ICM test projects, Jonathan Justi argued that to improve future ICM projects Chinese initiatives need to make significant progress in several areas—expand training, provide sufficient resources for monthly coastal water monitoring, and expand the utilization of international technical advice. Some headway has been made in the development of experts in resource management issues. For example, since 1997, Xiamen University has been home to the Xiamen International Training Center for Coastal Sustainable Development. This center provides training and study tours and serves as a forum for the marriage of marine science and marine management.
U.S. ICM Bilateral Work in China
Since the late 1990s, NOAA has sponsored a significant number, albeit relatively small-scale, ICM-related exchanges. NOAA, ventured into a bilateral ICM program with China in 1997 and unlike many of other U.S. government bilateral projects in China, NOAA has made a long-term commitment to its partner agency (the State Oceanic Administration, SOA). Integral to NOAA's involvement in China's ICM efforts is an attention to marine monitoring. The most significant project resulting from the cooperation, according to Justi, is the Beibu Gulf Initiative; the project's primary aim is the local application of ICM, as well as education, outreach, habitat restoration, and protection activities. NOAA has offered its extensive experience with GIS in an effort to provide improved data management in coastal management. While the NOAA-SOA relationship has proved useful for both sides, Justi observed that an expansion of the work is constrained by an insufficient budget on the U.S. side.
The Third Way? NGO's and China's Coastal Management
Although multilateral and bilateral projects all have emphasized effective integrated coastal management, their motivations, however, differ. The driving force of the Chinese government, for instance, is to preserve for future exploitation the resources that have been key to recent economic windfalls. Some NGOs, however, are largely drawn to the threat that unchecked growth has upon marine "treasures." Catriona Glazebrook of Pacific Environment cited the many marine species, unique to China, that have suffered from industrialization, poaching, and over fishing: among others, the Chinese white dolphin, Yangtze River dolphin and the Dugong sea lion are facing extinction.
Glazebrook noted that, as grave as these problems are, NGOs, like all other groups doing coastal management work in China, need to sufficiently answer the question, "why should we care?" For Glazebrook and Pacific Environment, the reasons are numerous, simple, and striking. For example, China is a major player on the world fish market, producing 70 percent of farmed fish. China's aquaculture is, essentially, feeding much of the world. Research has shown, however, that over fishing has resulted in an annual catch decline of 800 million pounds. Unless corrected, the world's fish stocks will be significantly depleted. Over fishing by Chinese ships, as well as growing transboundary water pollution from China are two issues that fuel political tensions in Northeast Asia.
While the Chinese government has established five national protected coastal areas (one each for spotted seals, Dugong sea lions, white dolphins, turtles, Yangze River dolphins) and many local governments have created smaller reserves, all suffer from lack of funding. Despite the enormity of China's coastal problems and weak coastal reserves, Catriona Glazebrook is generally hopeful. She noted that the Chinese government has made some inroads: China joined the International Whaling Commission, adopted a zero percent increase on take of fish, and issued a regulation on driftnet fishing. However, the Chinese central government has proposed other somewhat dubious conservation solutions, such as species relocation, which tends to carry a heavy cost and is a temporary bandage, ignoring the problems that have made species endangered.
In her talk Glazebrook explained that while the capacity of Chinese NGOs has grown tremendously over the last five years, groups devoted solely to marine issues are few. Consequently, there are many opportunities for international NGOs to provide resources and expertise to Chinese scientists to promote marine conservation activism. At the center of Pacific Environment's efforts in China is the notion that many great potential environmental leaders exist outside the government, but they are unable to undertake marine conservation work due to a lack of funding. Pacific Environment has resolved to directly help those individuals, namely scientists, through re-granting funds. Glazebrook noted one recent initiative: an influential scientist will receive $16,000 to conduct research on the viability of creating a protected habitat in the Dugong coastal reserve on Hainan Island. It is Pacific Environment's hope that by encouraging those on the cutting edge of coastal management research, expertise will grow and invigorate the search for balancing sustainable development and coastal management.
Lessons Learned, Opportunities Plenty
The Chinese government is, undoubtedly, aware of the problems that face their coastal waters. Indeed, necessary steps to promote ICM and preserve China's coasts have been taken: A new management regime is beginning to emerge, licensing fees for coastal development are collected, a legal framework for coastal protection now exists, and institutional (domestic and international) partnerships crucial for ICM have grown in number. But, the speed at which these changes are made, and take hold, may be too slow to sufficiently solve the coastal problems. Moreover, as Justi noted, it is clear that while "Coastal Environmental Stewardship" is a national priority, China faces even greater political, social, and economic issues that demand the Chinese leadership's attention.
Although China is facing many development problems on a level unknown to most of the world, the nature of the challenges to their coastal waters are no different than many others. There is indeed great potential for China to learn from the experience of other countries. Justi suggested that future U.S. work with China could include: sea area use management, law enforcement, conservation policies and regulations, and market access. Speakers and audience members alike concluded that while the U.S. government, for instance, has embarked on projects, even greater participation could provide great benefits to China's quest for ICM. Catriona Glazebrook emphasized how challenges inherently provide opportunities and concurred with Justi's comment that international organizations and agencies, like NOAA, can be a "catalyst for making [ICM in China] work."