A Third of Fish Species in China River Extinct, Officials Say

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
January 19, 2007

More than 30 percent of fish species in the Yellow River have gone extinct, Chinese government officials reported this week.

"There used to be more than 150 species of fish living in the Yellow River, but one-third have disappeared for good," an unnamed Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) official told China's People's Daily newspaper.

The MOA official also reported that the Yellow River's fish catch has declined by about 40 percent and emphasized a human role—such as disruptive dams and pollution—in the environmental catastrophe.

"Overfishing, persistent dumping, and hydropower projects along the river have degraded the underwater ecological environment," he said.

The Chinese government estimates that 66 percent of the Yellow River's water is so polluted that it is undrinkable (related photo: pollution turns Yellow River red [October 23, 2006]).

Jennifer Turner, head of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., said that the river's fouled waters mirror a nationwide problem that threatens wildlife as well as human health.

"The Yellow River is the Mother River," Turner said, referring to the waterway's role as the cradle of northern Chinese civilization.

"If the Mother River is sick, that's a major indication of the whole problem of China's inability to protect water resources."

The national government considers some 70 percent of the country's rivers and lakes to be seriously polluted.

When the River Runs Dry

The Yellow River is China's second longest after the Yangtze, flowing for nearly 3,400 miles (5,500 kilometers) from the arid Qinghai-Tibet plateau to the Bo Hai inlet of the Yellow Sea (China map).

Along the way the river brings water to more than 155 million Chinese.

Continued on Next Page >>


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