Final Ride on Yangtze River Rapids?

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April 23, 2009—An adventure ride down a section of China's Yangtze River could be the last before planned hydroelectric dams flood the rapids and alter the landscape. Video.

Video by Public Television's Wild Chronicles, from National Geographic Mission Programs

Unedited Transcript

HIGH IN THE HIMALAYAN FOOTHILLS THE YANGTZE PLUNGES THROUGH STEEP GORGES CREATING RAPIDS THAT CAN TAKE YOUR BREATH AWAY.

FOR DECADES NOW ADVENTURERS HAVE BEEN NAVIGATING THROUGH THIS SPECTACULAR BEND IN THE WORLDS THIRD LONGEST RIVER.

BUT NOW A GROUP OF CHINESE AND INTERNATIONAL CONSERVATIONISTS AND RESEARCHERS HAVE GATHERED FOR WHAT MAY BE THE FINAL RUN.

CHINA IS BUILDING A SERIES OF DAMS ON THIS PART OF THE RIVER THAT WILL CHANGE IT FOREVER.

TRAVIS WINN IS LEADING WHATS BEING CALLED THE LAST DESCENT RIVER EXPEDITION.

SOT our goal. Our mission right now is to figure out the fastest way to bring as much attention to these rivers as possible. To get people to rethink their value, to get people to understand individually and personally come to the conclusion that theyre worth protecting.

THE TEAM WILL PADDLE A 120-MILE STRETCH KNOWN AS THE GREAT BEND.

ITS FAR UPSTREAM OF THE FAMED AND MASSIVE THREE GORGES DAM.

BUT SEVERAL OTHER DAMS SMALLER THAN THE THREE GORGES ARE BEING BUILT IN THIS AREA.

THEYLL PROVIDE ELECTRICITY FOR THE CHINESE PEOPLE.

BUT LIKE THE THREE GORGES ITS EXPECTED THEY WILL ALSO ALTER THE LANDSCAPE BY BACKING THE RIVER INTO RESERVOIRS.

NOT THAT MANY CHINESE DESCEND THESE RAPIDS AND WINN AND HIS TEAM HOPE THIS TRIP WILL HELP BRING NATIONAL ATTENTION TO THIS THREATENED RESOURCE.

SOT when you bring people to the river you see them change and their attitude about the both the natural world, these rivers and the way they live their life at home changes.

IT TAKES THE GROUP SEVEN DAYS TO JOURNEY DOWN STREAM PASSING A LANDSCAPE ON THE BRINK OF CHANGE.

THEY MAY BE THE LAST OUTSIDERS TO SEE THIS STRETCH OF THE YANGTZE IN ITS PRISTINE STATE.

SOT It was very narrow, very steep canyon walls on the left hand side of the river going down. There was a waterfall. We spent probably a good half hour to an hour there just marveling at its beauty. I almost found myself weeping knowing that this canyon would be flooded in probably a year or so and all this would be lost, not just to us, but more importantly to the Chinese and that so few of us, very few of us, will have had a chance to experience this place.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUNG EXPLORER TRIP JENNINGS WAS GRATIFIED TO SEE THE CHINESE EXPEDITION MEMBERS REALIZE THE BEAUTY OF WHITEWATER.

We knew these damns were going to be built before we came. They are already under construction but everything everything changes when you gain this intimate kind of understanding. We saw Chinese participants who thought enjoying the rivers like this was for crazy professionals and now theyve turned around and are buying kayaks. I think thats the biggest success of this trip, enabling people in China to experience these resources as more than just hydropower.

BUT THE EXPEDITION IS POWERLESS TO STOP THE INEVITABLE.

TOWARD THE END OF THEIR JOURNEY THE FATE OF THE GREAT BEND SEEMS SEALED.

SOT as you can see right up here why this is going to be the last descent. If you look at the bridge, about 150 feet up, youll see a dam built above it, and this is all going to be inundated. All that really fun white water we just ran. All that beautiful scenery, most of those pretty little villages. Theyre all going to be under water.

WINN HOPES A DELAY IN THE BUILDING SCHEDULE WILL ALLOW HIM JUST ONE MORE TRIP DOWN THE GREAT BEND OF THE YANGTZE.

BUT AT SOME POINT THE FLOW OF THIS POWERFUL RIVER WILL BE STOPPED BY THE FLOW OF DEVELOPMENT.

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