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Asia Dive News : Chinese sea on verge of death

BEIJING - Industrial pollution on an enormous scale means eastern China's Bohai Sea could be "dead" within 12 years unless radical action is taken to stop toxic waste poisoning the water known as "the fish storehouse", top environmental advisers have told Parliament.

The warnings are another example of the crisis gripping the world's fastest growing major economy, as China tries to balance its desire for economic growth with the need to avoid environmental catastrophe.

"Almost no river that flows into the Bohai Sea is clean," said Liu Quanfang, an adviser to the annual National People's Congress.

The Bohai Sea has 26 cities in its hinterland, including three of China's biggest: the capital Beijing, Tianjin and Shenyang.

It is one of China's most high-profile environmental blackspots. Others include the Yangtze Delta and the Pearl River Delta.

China's coastal regions have enjoyed the lion's share of burgeoning economic growth of recent years, but they are also producing spectacular quantities of waste.

Factories and cities clustered along the shore of the Bohai Sea, an inner sea that used to be known as the Gulf of Chihli, dump tons of pollutants into the bay, poisoning spawning grounds for many species of fish, said Liu, an adviser from Liaoning.

There are about a hundred ports along its 3780km of coastline, including Shandong, Hebei and Liaoning provinces, and it has some major recreation areas.

However, lots of beaches have closed due to regular algal blooms, and there is a permanent question mark hanging over shellfish.

China's economy is expanding by 8 per cent every year, with growth fuelled by huge output from the factories of the eastern coastal regions.

The price of this growth is environmental devastation as the industrial mega-cities of the eastern seaboard dump pollutants into the rivers.

The 40 rivers flowing into the Bohai Sea are almost all filthy, including the mighty Yellow River, China's second longest.

In January this year, Shandong province lifted a pollution alarm on the Yellow River after a 106km-long diesel slick flowed into the Bohai Sea.

Between 1990 and 2004, there were 83 "red tides" in the Bohai and 2.8 billion tons of contaminated water is dumped into the 80,000sq km body of water every year.

"Pollution has caused extinctive damage to marine organisms in the sea," Liu said. "No large throng of any variety of fish, crab and testacean can be spotted in the sea now, and the whole of the spawning area in the sea is polluted."

Some varieties of fish were losing their ability to reproduce and could soon be extinct, he added.

An anti-pollution campaign was launched in 2002 but seems to be making little progress. One-third of the projects scheduled have not started, while many others have been abandoned because the money stopped coming.

Xie Kechang, an expert from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said there needed to be a unified, co-ordinated response.

Environmentalists say it can take 16 years for contaminated water to flow through the Bohai Straits into the Yellow Sea, leaving the sea as a pond of foul water.

China's State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) estimates that the amount of heavy metals in the mud of the sea's floor is 2000 times the national standard.

Liu is a member of a parliamentary body called the National Committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which advises the legislature.

Sepa reckons half of the offshore seawater in China has been polluted and is "not optimistic" on the marine environment.

Over one-third of Bohai's water falls short of even basic clean water standards, and some reports show that 80 per cent of sea areas near effluent outlets are heavily polluted.

If the Bohai Sea dies, it's gone for generations. Bringing it back to life after it "dies" would take 200 years, even if all the pollution stopped.

Source: NZ Herald