Freshwater ecosystems have a vital importance to China, and a great number of the people depend on wetlands (rivers, lakes and marshes) for drinking water, flood control and industrial production.
At the highlands in the west of the country, rise seven of the world’s principal rivers: the Yellow River, Yangtze River, Mekong and the Salween in the east of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau; and the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra in the south.
The basin of these rivers serve as sources of irrigation and drinking water, forms of transport and hubs of religious and cultural significance for around a third of the world’s population; The rivers bring life to the countries of China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and throughout Southeast Asia; and also form thousands of freshwater lakes in the mainland.
The fauna of the wetlands includes the black-necked crane in the marshy lands at Tibet and western Sichuan; winters in southeast, Bhutan, Tibet, northern Yunnan and western Guizhou; and the bar-headed goose in similar habitats.
In the north of the country there are a lot of freshwater marshes including the lakes and reed-beds on the Sanjiang Plain at Heilongjiang Province. The Heilongjiang, Sungari and Wusuli rivers run along two millions hectares in the Sanjiang Plain. Similar ecosystems can be found in Jilin, Liaoning and Inner Mongolia.
The nature reserve of Zhalong is one of the most representative areas of the northern ecosystems. It was created to guard breeding zones for the red-crowned crane, and other migrant birds.
In the marshes there is a high reed production – base of the pulp for paper - which has not damaged the natural ecosystem yet. Here waterfowl and agricultural industry can coexist at present.
The largest freshwater lakes of China are the Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province and Dongting Lake in Hunan Province. These lakes have a great economic transcendence whithin their regions and preserve particular ecosystems in their waters and wetlands.
Dongting Lake has a crucial importance for wildlife, but increasing siltation and land reclamation have reduced the lake to its half and the remaining part has contaminated water. These sadly actions have put to many species in severe endangered, like the Chinese sturgeon and several wintering wildfowl (Yangtze River dolphin has been officially declared extinct).
Poyang Lake is suffering the same problem than Dongting Lake. Its wealthy ecosystem of two hundred Siberian cranes, five hundred thousand birds, and unique fishes are in high risky due to the permanent draining of the lake and the pollution.