On a short stretch of the Yangtze River, three sleek grey porpoises twist in muddy waters near the city of Nanjing, protected from passing barges and ships by a row of yellow buoys.
With only 1,000 remaining, the Yangtze finless porpoise is a symbol of the damage done to China’s longest river in a decades-long campaign to tame floods, reclaim farmland and industrialize the regions along its banks.
President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) call for sustainable growth in the Yangtze “economic belt” has raised hopes that the river’s last surviving mammal can become an emblem of China’s environmental revival.
“It has now been scientifically proven that the Yangtze porpoise is a unique species,” said Jiang Meng, secretary general of the Nanjing Yangtze Finless Porpoise Conservation Association, a group that oversees the porpoise safe haven at Nanjing.
“If it isn’t protected well, the Chinese government will be under pressure,” Jiang said.
The safe zone is tucked behind a “ecological red line” that bans construction on 88 sq km of territory along the shore.
Rows of fish farms have been replaced by lotus ponds teeming with migratory birds. Fishing is restricted and ships are routed away from the zone, which is patrolled daily.
“We chase them away — this is a core area so we can’t let them fish here,” said Yang Jinlong, a fisherman-turned-conservationist.
China counted 1,012 Yangtze porpoises in its last census in 2017, down from 2,500 in 1991, and the numbers are falling by about 10 percent a year, officials said.
The porpoise can still be saved, Jiang said.
“The numbers are still falling but the rate of decline is slowing,” he said.
It’s been done before, activists say. A decades-long conservation effort saved the giant panda, China’s national symbol, from the brink of extinction. There are around 1,900 giant pandas today, and their numbers are rising.
“It may be too little too late, but what they are doing is unprecedented,” Todd Robeck, author of a recent study into the Yangtze porpoise, said of the effort to save the mammal.
“They are putting in the right pieces to keep this animal from going extinct,” said Robeck, vice president of conservation research at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment in Orlando, Florida.
From its origins in the glaciers of Tibet to its delta in Shanghai on the eastern coast, the 6,437km Yangtze provides water to a third of China’s population.
It has been the scene of profound and destructive environmental changes over the past 70 years, caused not only by giant feats of engineering like the Three Gorges Dam, but also a Mao Zedong (毛澤東)-era campaign to drain lakes and wetlands.
For decades, its complex ecosystem was sacrificed in a frantic rush for economic growth.
The “baiji” or white-finned dolphin, a larger cousin of the porpoise, was declared “functionally extinct” in 2006. The Chinese sturgeon is also on the brink of annihilation, with fish stocks plunging 90 percent in the last few decades.
Many porpoises are killed in collisions with boats because noise pollution affects their echolocation, while a degraded habitat and polluted water exposes them to contagious diseases.
A 10-year government action plan released in 2016 blamed “intensified human activities” for the fall in porpoise numbers and said past protection efforts failed to arrest the decline.
However, the action plan was limited in scope, aiming only to “stabilize” porpoise populations, improve monitoring, raise public awareness and deepen genetic and stem cell research.
Nanjing is considered a model protection zone, and it has spent around 30 million yuan since it opened in 2014 on surveillance equipment and a full-time staff of 20.
Elsewhere, authorities last month imposed a 10-year fishing ban from 2021 at Poyang, China’s largest freshwater lake and another home to finless porpoises. The ban will affect 100,000 fishermen, Xinhua news agency reported.
And a 64km stretch of the Yangtze at Anqing, in Anhui Province, has been declared a porpoise safe haven and off limits for fishing.
“We are optimistic because the state has made protection a priority,” said Chen Shouwen, a conservation official at Anqing’s rural affairs bureau.
Activists hope publicity will help save the porpoise, but some campaigns can misfire. Conservationists were enraged last year when authorities captured 14 wild porpoises and put them on display in marine parks in Shanghai and along the east coast.
Researchers have had some success in breeding porpoises artificially, but the numbers are small. China may be forced to preserve the species by storing reproductive cells and repopulating the river when conditions improve.
“I don’t think it will ever return to the way it was, but there might be some mitigation efforts where they can thrive quite normally in the Yangtze,” Robeck said. “I’m really hopeful their efforts will be an example for what can be done in the future.”
With his sugarcane juice stall at Monga Nightmarket (艋舺夜市) floundering due to COVID-19, things took a turn for the worse for Lin Chih-hang (林志航) when he was furloughed from a part-time job. The crowds are trickling back to this nightmarket in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華), but Lin is now so busy that he has hired a friend to run his stall. As the sole driver of the night market’s delivery service, established on April 12, Lin takes on an average of 20 orders on weeknights and over 60 on weekends, with his father helping out when he is too busy.
May 25 to May 31 Three months before his 90th birthday in 2015, Chung Chao-cheng (鍾肇政) woke up shortly after midnight and experienced a inexplicable sense of clarity. “Suddenly, my mind started going all over the place. There were some recent memories, but also many that I thought I had long forgotten. They would appear and disappear from my brain one after another, and they were so clear, so lucid. Even the memories from 70, 80 years ago felt like they happened yesterday. I suddenly thought, if I still remember so much, why don’t I write everything down?” Despite his solid
In troubled times, people have been known to hoard currency at home — a financial security blanket against deep uncertainty. But in this crisis, things are different. This time cash itself, passed from hand to hand across neighborhoods, cities and societies just like the coronavirus, is a source of suspicion rather than reassurance. No longer a thing to be shoved mindlessly into a pocket, tucked into a worn wallet or thrown casually on a kitchen counter, money’s status has changed during the virus era — perhaps irrevocably. The pandemic has also reawakened debate about the continued viability of what has been
Green, spiky and with a strong, sweet smell, the bulky jackfruit has morphed from a backyard nuisance in India’s south coast into the meat-substitute darling of vegans and vegetarians in the West. Part of the South Asia’s diet for centuries, jackfruit was so abundant that tonnes of it went to waste every year. But now India, the world’s biggest producer of jackfruit, is capitalizing on its growing popularity as a “superfood” meat alternative — touted by chefs from San Francisco to London and Delhi for its pork-like texture when unripe. “There are a lot of inquiries from abroad... At the international level, the