Is it contradictory to consider both biodiversity conservation and economic development at the same time?

It has been widely known that China is experiencing a period that the economy is developing in a staggering speed, while there are quite a few other issues including environmental and social issues arisen at the same time. Due to the nationwide urbanization, lots of natural lands such as forests, grassland and wetland are degraded, resulting in the loss of habitat. As a consequence, some species have been extinct and some are at the edge of extinction.

 There is a “World Extinct Wildlife Cemetery” in Beijing, in which each species within recent 300 hundred years has its own species name marked on a stone stele.    


Picture 1. The lying stone stele indicates this species is already extinct while the standing one represents the unextinct species. Therefore, the half-down stele represents an endangered species. Sourced from:

Extinction of the “Giant Panda in water”


Picture 2. Baiji (Yangtze River dolphin) is the species that only distributed in the middle and lower reach of Yangtze River and since it evolved from 25 million years ago, it has a nickname of “live fossil”. (Sourced from Theodore Lim, July 20th, 2010, All About the Three Gorges Dam)

 The population of Baiji (or Yangtze River dolphin) declined dramatically during the decades when China industrialised and made heavy use of the river for fishing, transporting and hydroelectricity. Though it was listed as an endangered species by the US government under the Endangered Species Act, and was conserved by Chinese environmentalists, we still could not stop its decline. In 2007, it was considered to be functionally extinct.

The extinction of Baiji is mainly attributable to human activities including:

  • Hunting: During the Great Leap forward (1958-1962), Baiji were hunted for their skin and flesh.
  • Fishing: In the 1970s and 1980s, half of the population was killed due to entanglement in fishing gear and nets, as well as electrical fishing equipment.
  • Pollution: A great amount of industrial waste was released into the Yangtze River, causing serious pollution to Baiji’s habitat.
  • Habitat loss: After completion of the Three Gorges Dam, many locations of the riverbed were reinforced and dredged by concrete, destroying important habitats for the species.
  • Noise pollution: Construction along the riverbank makes these almost blind mammals collide with boats and propellers.

Social factors that contributed to the extinction of Baiji

Extinction of the Baiji cannot be attributed to just one reason, but a combination of human activity and social awareness. For instance, almost everyone in China knows Giant Panda, while only a small group of people care about the living situation of Baiji. Even some fishermen working along the Yangtze River were not aware that Baiji was an extremely endangered species. 

 Moreover, education system and mass media in China do not insert the importance of biodiversity conservation into people’s everyday life. Instead, most of the public prefer to care about economic development: whether economic growth this year is higher than last year; whether people’s income can be increased or not etc.

It is not just environmentalists’ responsibility to conserve the ecosystem. Instead, biodiversity conservation should be a nationwide action, in which everyone pays attention to it. Otherwise, as “World Extinct Wildlife Cemetery” tells us, humans would be the last third species extinct (the other two are rats and insects).

Xiying Zhao (u4912236) Undergraduate student at Fenner Sc


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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