Journal of Coastal Conservation

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 857–867 | Cite as

Coastal development history and tidal flat ecosystem conservation along the coast of Jiangsu Province, China

  • Cunli Liu
  • Zhenke ZhangEmail author
  • Xingqi Zhang
  • Hang Ren
  • Binglin Liu
  • Zunlin Bao
  • Zhang Xiaoxiang


Jiangsu coast, with the unique feature of expanding tidal flat along the west border of the South Yellow Sea, has the famous coastal ecosystem of tidal flat, which is also the habitat for the long-distance migration birds. Using the comprehensive analysis of the historical documents and historical maps as well as the remote sensing images, the authors reviewed the development and conservation of the tidal flat in Jiangsu coast. The development of the tidal flat has a long history of more than two thousand years. Salt production was the earliest economic purpose of the tidal flat development, obvious transition of the tidal flat use changed from salt production to farming in the late nineteenth century. The large-scale reclamation began in the early time of 1910s and the fast reclamation periods in the past century corresponded with the policy-oriented supporting from the government. The conservation of the tidal flat and the salt marsh in the central part of the Jiangsu coast oriented the setup of the Yancheng Wetland Conserves in the year of 1983. The conflicts between the tidal flat conservation and the development in the past decades was discussed in the aspect of the key periods. Large amount loss of tidal flat resulted in the food-rich, continuous wetland became more fragmental and food shortage along the tidal flat of Jiangsu coast. The author believed the policy and the decision- making play important role in the conflicts about the coastal wetland conservation and development in Jiangsu Province. There are more potentials for the improvement of the coastal development policy and decision-making in the future.


Tidal flat ecosystem Conflicts Coastal development Coastal conservation, reclamation 


The global coast is a zone interacted by land and ocean along the world’s total 1,634,701 km of coastline (Burke et al. 2001). About 84% of the countries in the world have a coastline and more population and larger cities in the coastal zone, as well as the ecological, economic and social dependence on coast environment (Martínez et al. 2007). The coast ecosystem has been regarded with more critical importance to human beings since 1997, when Costanza et al. (1997) published a paper on the assessment of the value of annual ecosystem services in global scale. This is the first time that the economic value of the coast is calculated. The global coast, with the area of 3102 × 106(ha), had the value of annual ecosystem services 12,568 × 109(1994 USD) which was even more than the value of the total terrestrial ecosystems with the figure of 12,319 × 109 (1994 USD) (Costanza et al. 1997). In the past two decades, the regional or national value of annual ecosystem services were the highlighted topic for studies, such as the study of China’s value of ecosystem services (Chen and Zhang 2000).

In a historical view, the coastal zone is become more and more attractive for human beings, the sea salt production, the fishing as well as the increase of marine trade accelerated the growth of the population and the occurrence of towns or cities in coastal zone. But for a long time, the impact of the coastal human beings on the coastal ecosystem was fewer. The rocketing industrialization and urbanization as well as marine resources exploitation has resulted in the coastal ecosystem deterioration and global concerns in the past decades (UN Millenium Project 2005).

There was an obvious conflict between the development or marine resources exploitation and the conversation of coast systems. In the aspects and academic research and the management practice, How to balance the development and the conversation of our important coast is not only the target for the government and the scientists, but also the objective version for individual residents on the planet. The United States, launched the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (CZMA) was first country implemented the coast conservation law in the world for the purpose to balancing the development and conversation along the coast (Godschalk 1992). After the Rio Earth Summit and the following document of Agenda 21, the marine or coastal ecosystem and coast sustainability were strengthened in national or local agenda 21 for realizing the target of sustainability (Lafferty and Eckerberg 2013). With increase of the anthropogenic activities in the marine space, the conflicts occurred among the marine space users, and also affecting the marine ecosystem. For example, the coastal tourism was a potent force affecting the coastal environment and society, and tourism had the conflicts among the tourism, marine transportation, and fishing (Miller and Auyong 1991). Since 2008, the EU and the United States has implemented the marine spatial planning or ecosystem based marine spatial planning and management for the purpose to solving the conflicts, marine spatial planning has been interested by many researchers in the past decade (Halpern et al. 2012; Crowder et al. 2006; Crowder and Norse 2008; Gilliland and Laffoley 2008).

Salt marsh, a most vulnerable landscape in the coastal zone, is an important ecosystem for the marine biodiversity and coastal ecosystem services. Anthropogenic activities such as sea reclamations or the expanding of the cities, and climate change oriented sea level rising would cause the loss of the salt marsh (Hartig et al. 2002; Feagin et al. 2010). In East Asian, the larger rivers with huge sediments and the broaden continental shelf, result in the formation of wide tidal flat along the Yellow Sea in dominated tidal dynamic condition. Salt marsh is the main landscape of the tidal flat along the coast of the Yellow Sea. The various marine foods are attracting many migrating birds inhabiting in the salt marsh. Recently research found the fast loss of tidal wetlands along the coast of Yellow Sea and affecting the migration of the endangered birds because of the tidal wetlands are the main lane of the migration birds in the world. One study revealed that 28% of tidal flats existing in the 1980s had disappeared by the late 2000s, and compared to the historical maps suggests that up to 65% of tidal wetlands were lost over the past five decades (Murray et al. 2014). The tidal flat loss of Jiangsu Province, China was not included in Murray’s study.

The Chinese researchers are also interested in the salt marsh changes or the modern coastline changes along the west coast of Yellow Sea, especially the coast in Jiangsu Province (Yao 2013; Zuo et al. 2012, 2013; Li et al. 2015; Xu et al. 2016). The expanding industrialization along the coast of Bohai Sea, North China resulted in the landscape changes through the rapid reclamation projects (Zhu et al. 2016).

Jiangsu coast zone, with 954 km long, is the famous coast with large and wide muddy tidal flat. The muddy coastal ecosystem has the important ecological functions of trapping coastal suspended sediments, absorbing carbon dioxide by salt marshes, and function of biodiversity with various migration birds, marine species (fishes, shrimps, molluscs), which includes the upper salt marsh zone and the lower muddy-silt tidal flat zone in the coastal section. Because of the high tide ranges and the huge river discharged sediments, the Jiangsu coastline continuously shifted seaward in the long historical time (Ren and Shi 1986). Tide dynamics is the dominate force of the sediment transportation and siltation, while the sediment supplies by rivers declined in the past decades with the huge dams construction in the Yangtze River Basin (Dai et al. 2014, 2016). With the development of the coast zone along Jiangsu coast, the reclamation was the main way strongly changed the natural coastal ecosystem. The natural sediment supplies decline and human reclamation are the severe challenges for the muddy coastal ecosystem in Jiangsu along the Yellow Sea. The anthropogenic influence such as the tidal falt reclamation was regarded as the dominate pressure to the coastal ecosystem in the past decades (Li et al. 2015). So the important question is how to balance the conversation and development in the coastal ecosystem in the case study region? What we can learn from the historical coastal development? While few researchers concerned about the relationship between coast and society in a multidisciplinary view. With the Jiangsu coastal region forecast to be a hotspot of urban expansion, development of the western Yellow Sea coastline should pursue a course that minimizes the loss of remaining coastal ecosystems. In this study the authors reviewed the history of coastal development and the fast coastal changes by large scale reclamation projects in the past decades. The purpose of this study is to compare the characteristics of human impacts on the tidal flat ecosystem in a historical view and provides some suggestions for balancing the development and conservation of the tidal flat ecosystem from the case study in Jiangsu coast in a historical review.

Study area and materials

Study area

Jiangsu Coast, with the coastline of 954 km long, located in East China, which dominated by the landscape of tidal flat (Fig. 1). The Old Yellow River (now abandoned) passed through northern Jiangsu Plain and transported huge sediments into the South Yellow Sea during the period from AD 1127 to AD 1856 (Ren 1985). The relative gentle slope of the inner continental shelf, dominated tidal dynamics as well as the huge riverine sediments along the coast of Jiangsu Province resulted in the tidal flat formation (Ren and Shi 1986). The first China’s coastal survey in 1980s revealed that the total tidal flat above average sea level in Jiangsu Province was about 350,000 ha, not included the tidal flat below the local average sea level (Ren and Shi 1986). The radial tide currents in the middle offshore of Jiangsu caused the larger tide range usuallu more than 7.0 m, and the largest tide range was 9.62 m recorded in 2012 (Ding et al. 2014). The flood tide is usually faster than the ebb tide and more suspended sediments transported to the upper part of the tidal flat and deposited, which is the mechanism of the formation of the tidal flat and growth or expanding seaward.
Fig. 1

The map of the Jiangsu coastal region

The tidal flat and the salt marsh along the Jiangsu Province are the dominating landscape. With exceptionally high biodiversity supported by nutrients, tidal flats are the most productive ecosystems, acting as nurseries for finfish and shellfish, and as habitat for migratory birds. In the year of 1983, the government of Jiangsu Province launched the provincial nature reserve in the coast, which became the national nature reserve site in 1992. the formal name of the nature reserve is Jiangsu Yencheng Wetland National Nature Reserve, Rare Birds (YWC) for the purpose to protect the migratory birds, especially the endangered birds and rare birds in the world. In the YWC, the vegetation has the transition feature in the tidal flat. The area between the middle and lower tide line is the bare tidal flat scattering with the plant community of Spartina anglica, Spartina alterniflora Loisel. In the upper part of the tidal flat, the vegetation community become more complex with the Suaeda glauca, Salicornia europaea, and the community of Imperata cylindria as well as Setaria viridis, Artenisia capillaris, Phragmiteo australis, Zoysia macrostachys. Spartina alterniflora Loisel as a invade species was introduced to the tidal flat of Jiangsu coast in 1982, which experienced the fast reproduction processes and covered much intertidal zone in YWC (Zuo et al. 2013).

The coastal landscape section of the tidal falt in Jiangsu Province was shown in Fig. 2. The inner part of the sea embankment was the former tidal flat. With the continuous reclamation in tidal flat, the embankment or the dike moved seaward periodically.
Fig. 2

Coastal section of the tidal flat ecosystem in Jiangsu Province

Materials and methods

This study focused on the coastal landscape especially the tidal flat changes, and explored the conflicts between the exploitation and conservation about tidal flat. The history of the tidal flat development in Jiangsu Province was as long as two thousand years, but the active conservation was no more than 40 years. The conflicts on tidal flat between development and conservation in present time wasmore serious in Jiangsu coastal region and attracted more foreign scholars (Murray et al. 2014). Because the State Council approved the Development Plan on Jiangsu Coastal Region by the government of Jiangsu Province in 2008, with the ambitious plan to reclamation 1800 km2 new land along the coast of Jiangsu Province. The conflicts between the development and conservation became a highlighting environmental issue in Jiangsu coast, China.

The historical documents of the tidal flat development in Jiangsu are plentiful and there are also many historical maps of the Jiangsu coast especially in the last century (Shen and Feng 2006; The chorography editorial board of Jiangsu Province 1995, 1997a, b, 1999). The other data source is the remote sensing images in Jiangsu Province (Table 1). All above document was used for reconstructing the detailed spatial changes of the coastline changes, reclamation polders changes as well as the tidal flat ecosystem changes in the process of the coastal development in a historical view.
Table 1

List of the historical reclamation data sources in Jiangsu coast

Data types



Data source

Historical map

Historical map

Historical map

Remote sensing data

Land use status map









30 m





Landsat image data ①

Coastal counties

*JPBSMG: Jiangsu Provincial Bureau of Surveying Mapping and Geoinformation

① The Landsat image data was from the USGS website,, and detailed data source form the Landsat1–3 and Landsat4-presnet in GLOVIS window. To select path number: 120, 128 and 118, row number 36, 37, 38 respectively for the northern, middle and southern coast images of Jiangsu with the cloud coverage less 5%. Selected the best images for geodetic coordination and vectorization.

For the purpose to reconstruct the detailed spatial changes of the coastline changes, reclamation polders changes as well as the tidal flat ecosystem changes in the past decade, the Landsat series images were treated with geometric correction, and all the temporal different maps and images was in the same geodetic coordinate system and formed the vector map series. The vector maps was treated by overlay analysis and and focused on the coastline changes as well as the temporal analysis to the reclamation polder.

Using the comprehensive analysis and the review of the historical document and the published papers, the author tried to focus on the conflicts between the development and conservation of the tidal flat and summarize the historical evolution of the tidal flat development changes along Jiangsu coast, which indicate the present status of the tidal flat ecosystem under severe human impacts.


History coastal development

The anthropogenic activities on the tidal flat in Jiangsu history experienced the following three stages: reclamation for salt production, reclamation for agriculture and fast multi-objective reclamation.
  1. (1)

    Reclamation for salt production


Salt making activities in Jiangsu coast had a long history. In the period of Spring and Autumn (770–476 BC), this region has started a certain size sea salt production; in BC 119, Yancheng (meaning “town of salt-making”) was set up by the government to manage salt production, which was one of the important sea salt production areas in the Han Dynasty (202 BC - AD 220) (Tang 1997). During the 10-11th centuries, Jiangsu coast have formed comparatively mature technology of decocted salt production, and in the 11-12th centuries, salt output were about 100–150 thousand tons annually, which became sea salt production centre of China (Guo 1990).

After the 15-16th centuries, Jiangsu saltworks constantly migrated seaward with the rapid coastal accretion (Bao 2016a, b); under the government’s control and support, the saltworks of the south Jiangsu coast occupied a lot of grass-land resources(Bao and Gao 2016), and the biggest sales market of the four provinces (Anhui, Hubei, Hunan, and Jiangxi Province) in China, which enter into a golden development period and became the national salt industry production centre (Bao 2016a, b). In this stage, salt output and taxes of Jiangsu salt industry all accounted for about 30% of the total amount of the country (Guo 1997). Meanwhile, the production region of Jiangsu Saltworks included about a total of about 23–30 saltworks which distributed in the east coast of Fangong Dike. It was generally divided into two parts by a scrap of the Old Huanghe River today, which formed a basic.

China, was a large country with more population in the history. For the purpose to feed the increased population, the new land reclamation was needed especially after 1700 A D because of the fast population increase. For a long time the total population in China was no more than 160 million (Table 2), while the population in China increased rapidly after 1700 AD (Ge 1991).
Table 2

Population changes in China



Population increase annual rate (‰)

200 B.C.



A.D. 1




























































After the eighteenth century, through prohibiting private salt production and reclamation, the government strengthened in the control of land resources, production organization, salt workers, scale market, and salt industry had a further development (Xu 1972). In AD 1820, salt outputs of south coast were about 450 thousand tons, which were the historical highest salt output of south coast (The chorography editorial board of Jiangsu Province 1997a, b). In this period, Jiangsu saltworks accounted for about 33% of the total salt output of China (Guo 1997), and provided the main salt taxes source of it, i.e., about 49% of total salt taxes were from Jiangsu coastal saltworks (Chen 1998).

Since the late nineteenth century, with the impact of social-economic condition, low production efficiency of decocted salt production in south coast lost the support from of government, and was on the wane declined gradually. However, the solar salt production in the north coast began its rapidly development, which became the new production center of Jiangsu Saltworks (Bao 2013). In the early twentieth century, because of the promotion of open-reclamation, a lot of saltworks of south coast were eliminated, and salt industry production shrank fast in Jiangsu coast. In 1929, salt output of south coast were only about 48 thousand tons annually, but there were about 525 thousand tons of north coast (The chorography editorial board of Jiangsu Province 1997a, b). Since then, south coast became the important reclamation region of China.

The monsoon climate in Jiangsu coastal region has the feature of heavy storm rain in the summer season and the other seasons are usually with few rain. In the dry season corresponding with the sea wind, the weather benefits for the sea water evaporation and the salt accumulation. The history of the salt production along Jiangsu coast indicated the human adaption to the nature process and the rational use of the tidal flat. Anthropogenic influence to the tidal flat ecosystem was limited.
  1. (2)

    Reclamation for agriculture

In the region of present Jiangsu Province, the plain was suitable climate for agriculture and the population migrated to the coastal plain was encouraged by the central government. In return accelerated the population increase.The increased population need more farm lands to feed the expanding society. The Jiangsu coastal plain had the large area of new formed ad undeveloped land because of the tidal flat accretion and expanding seaward. In the period of 1127–1856 AD,the main channel of the Yellow River passed through Jiangsu plain and discharged much sediments in the west coast of the Yellow Sea (Ren and Shi 1986). The regional dominated tide dynamics is suitable for the accretion of the tidal flat in the coastal area of Jiangsu. From the late Song Dynasty to present, the 954 km long coastline of Jiangsu had the obvious seaward expanding morphological process (Fig. 3). The maximum range of the coastline changes was about 80 km in the abandoned Yellow River estuary, and most of the coastline expanded more 40 km (Zhang et al. 2013). Along the coastal region of Jiangsu Province, the unique feature has been the continuous expanding of tidal flat because of the large amount of the Yellow River sediments discharges and tidal flat sedimentation. For the past two thousand years the coastline expanded 50 km in the section of Yancheng City (former name was Yandu, means the town of salt production). In Song Dynasty, for the purpose to prevent the tide floods in the eastern coast region of Jiangsu, the Fangong Dyke was built under the organization by the local administrator of Mr. Fan Zhongyan. The Fangong Dyke not only controlled the flooding of the upper part of the tidal flat, but also benefited for the soil improvement for agricultural reclamation because of the natural process removing and lowering the salt contents in the soils (Ren 1985).
Fig. 3

Coastal line changes along Jiangsu coast since late Song Dynasty

For a long time the limited farming lands located the upper part of the tidal flat and suffering the tide floods occasionally (Ren and Shi 1986). Mr. Zhang Qian, as an earlier national industrialist, was the founder of Tonghai Agriculture Company in the year of 1901. In the coastal areas, the salt production could not support the livings for the increasing population at that time. The purpose of the agriculture company funded by Zhang Qian was to reclamation the tidal flat for large scale agriculture for example the cotton planting. Because the detailed planning and effective management, the earliest large scale reclamation succeeded especially in the coastal region of Zhang Qian’s home town (present Nantong City) and the total reclamation lands increased to over 300,000 ha in the end of 1920s.

According to the historical map, the RS and GIS analysis, the coastal reclamation area in the past century in Jiangsu Province was shown in the Table 3. The 1910s–1920s, 1950s,1970s, 2000s are the fast recalamtion decades. In the 1910s and 1920s the local government encouraged the tidal flat reclamation in the coastal area of Jiangsu Province especially in Yancheng and Nantong City (Table 3).
Table 3

Statistics of Jiangsu coastal reclamation area (1900–2010) unit /100 ha


































































From 1980’s to 2000s the reclamation in the tidal flat of Jiangsu coastal plain was mostly used as shrim ponds and fish ponds, and aquaculture quickly developed.

  1. (3)

    Fast multi-objectives reclamation


In the new century, the coast zone of Jiangsu Province entered a new era of rocketing development. With the export oriented economy development in China, the importance of the sea port has deeply influenced the administrators of the central and local governments. The unique feature of the expanding tidal flat along Jiangsu coast and the potentials of sea reclamation attracted much investment in the coastal zone of Jiangsu in the past 20 years. The Yangkou Port, Dafeng Port, Sheyang Port and Binhai Port are the new sea port setting up in the tidal flat environment along the Jiangsu coast. The port construction corresponded with huge sea reclamation for the warehousing land. The modern marine aquaculture, industrial development zones as well as the coastal new districts in the coastal zone usually occupied much tidal flat or salt marsh.

In the past 20 years the reclamation projects in Jiangsu usually finished quickly and strong changed the coastal environment. For example, the coastal new district of Liangyungang City with the planned area of 800 ha was the former salt marsh and tidal flat, and the reclamation project started the reclamation in 2012 and finished the construction in 2015. The Tiaozini Polder project started in 2012, was the recent largest reclamation project in Jiangsu with the reclamation area of 7033 ha and the financial investment of 1.85 billion RMB. The Dafeng Port began to construction in 1998, and in the year of 2004 a first stage of 800 ha reclamated land finished. The total planned region about the Dafeng Port was 20,600 ha and the first stage construction area in Dafeng Port was about 3000 ha. More than ten new coastal economic zone or parks in Jiangsu were also located at the new reclamation polders.

In recently years, China has more strict constraints on the exploitation of farming land. The construction land supply is fewer, and the sea reclamation land should be a method for replacement for the construction land along the coast of Jiangsu Province.

Conservation of the tidal flat ecosystem in Jiangsu Province

Comparing with the history of the tidal flat development, the conservation of the tidal flat in Jiangsu Province was only no more than 40 years. With the open policy and the First Naitonal Coastal Resources Survey in the early time of 1980’s, the ecological and economic significances of the salt marsh and tidal flats in Jiangsu Province were recognized. In the year of 1983, the Jiangsu government made a decision to set up the Yancheng Wetland Conserves in the coastal tidal flat of Yancheng City. The wetland conservation team has worked for daily management of the wetlands of the tidal flat since 1983. In the year of 1992, the provincial wetland conserves became the national conserves named the Yancheng Wetland Conserves, Rare Birds (YWC).

Every year, the migration birds fly to the Yanchang Wetland Conserves after a long-distance migration. The birds found the destination with much protein food such as the mudskipper (Periophthalmus modestus), the mud snail (Anadara granosa), Crabs (Hemigrapsus penicillatus, Hemirgraosus sinensis) and bottom organism (Oncomelania spp, Umbonium thomasi, Perineris aibuhitensis). The special rare birds such as the Red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis) and the.

Black-faced Spoonbill (Platalea minor) flied to the tidal flat of the YWC and lived here for the winter season. According to the field observation, the observed maximum number of the Red-crowned crane in YWC was about 1128 in the year of 2000. Because of the increasing anthropogenic impacts especially the reclamation the total number of red-crown crane was in a declining trend in the past decades with some fluctuation. The annual total number of the red-crown crane was no more than 1000 except the year of 1996 and 2000 (Lu et al. 2006).

The no disturbance tidal flat with rich food and suitable vegetation coverage is the best habitat for the red-crown crane in the winter season. In the year of 1999, the field survey of the red-crown crane habitats in YWC found the total number was 796 and the agriculture land became an important habitat for the red-crown crane in the winter season. About 37.19% of the total number of the red-crown cranes habituated in the farming land eating wheat leaves as food supply (Ma et al. 1999). That means the food supply from the tidal flat is scare and the red-crown crane community has to fine new area with food supply.


Comparison of the coastal land uses in a historical view

For a long time in Jiangsu coast, the human activities in the history was not so intense as the present because of the high technologies was used for large scale reclamation projects in the past decades.

The earlier salt production did not destroy the tidal channel systems and usually located not too close to the coastline in the historical time. The historical documents and the place names in present Jiangsu coastal plain indicated the high tidal range could ensure the sea waters entering the lands of salt production through the tidal channels (Bao 2016a, b). So the which means the coastal environment was in the natural condition.

The seaward expanded coastline in Jiangsu resulted in the large new lands suitable for agriculture. In Song Dynasty (960—1279 AD) the Fangong Dike used for defensing the tidal floods and the west to the dike was the important farming area. Because of the fast increase of population, the east region to the Fangong Dike was the following reclamation target. Usually the new farmlands was far away from the coastline. The natural tidal flat ecosystem was not disturbed.

In twentieth century, tidal flat reclamation coincided with the expansion of the tidal flat. Before the 1970’s, the reclamation in the tidal flat environment focused on the higher lands or the upper part of the tidal flat, where fewer influenced by the sea floods and the soil with low content of salt. The reclamation lands were used for farming instead of aquaculture (Jiangsu Agricultural Resources Development Agency 1999). In the periods of 1950s and 1970s, the agriculture were the main aspects of priority economy in China. Agricultural production increased obviously because of the large scale upper tidal flat reclamation quickly along the coast of Jiangsu (Ministry of Jiangsu Agriculture and Foresty 1992).

Since the 1980’s most of the tidal flat reclamation lands in Jiangsu used for aquaclutre ponds for the purpose to get more profits, which was different with the earlier tidal flat development for farming (Fig. 4). One interesting finding was in front of the new dike the new formed tidal flat was not the muddy-silty tidal flat, which means the natural tidal ecosystem completely destroyed because of the quickly reclamation.
Fig. 4

Coastal section of the land uses and reclamation series in southern Jiangsu coast

Why so fast recent changes of the tidal flat ecosystem in Jiangsu coast?

As a central administrative country, the coastal development policy and the decision-making in China have the specific features, such as fast decision, quickly implement, large amount investment of labor and finance, large scale coastal development especially the sea reclamation used as farming land, aquaculture polder, wind power field, port construction, new coastal town as well as industrial zone. Coastal development policy dominated the intensity and scale of the tidal flat reclamation in China.

In the year of 2008, the government’s plan for the coastal development in Jiangsu approved by the State Council of China, the 180,000 ha sea reclamation and the ports construction were highlighted in the plan. The port construction along the Jiangsu coast accelerated or stimulated the process of the tidal flat reclamation. In the past decade the ports of Binhai,Sheyang and Dafeng expanded and the continuous distribution of natural tidal flat or habitat became fragmental (Fig. 5). In the year of 2012, the adjustment proposal was passed and the area of YWC changed from 284,179 ha to 247,260 ha. The port construction and industrial zone occupied much tidal flat and as a replacement, part of the offshore shoal was included in the new YWC content (Fig. 5).
Fig. 5

The YWC adjustmentin 2012. Left: the original YWC map; Right: new YWC map. In the new YWC map, the Dafeng Port and Sheyang Port and coastal industrial zone partly occupied the YWC

Throughout the world, coastal infrastructure project was usually evaluated strictly for the purpose to prevent the ecological influences and environmental sustainability. While in the coastal development view, the supporters of the coastal projects are usually with strong powers such as the congressmen, the local leaders as well the big companies. Large scale sea reclamation project launched in many coastal countries, such as Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, the artificial islands construction for the purpose of luxury tourism was also supported by the government (Ryan and Stewart 2009). In South Korea, the Saemangeum Reclamation Project was launched as a national project in 1991 and the project is the world largest coastal reclamation work, regarded as the most controversial environmental issue in Korea (Koh et al. 2010). The project includes reclaiming a coastal area of 401 km2 by 33 km long dyke, which enclosed in April 2006 and changed the tidal flat into lake and land. Prior to the dyke enclosure, the coastal environment in the Saemangeum was a complex system governed by tidal motion, estuarine processes, and coastal circulation of the Yellow Sea. The Saemangeum project has received a continuous strong public concern on the water quality and ecological crises since 1996. While the Korean courts showed different perspectives on the economic feasibility, value of the ecosystem, land use, and water quality, which represents the limit of legal system to address complicated environmental problems. After the final judgment by the Korean Supreme Court, the Special Act for the promotion of the Saemangeum reclamation project was enacted with strong political support from congressmen and local leaders. A more developmental-oriented land use plan came out in 2009 based on this Act (Koh et al. 2010).

The necessary evaluation of the coastal project is useful to improve the original plan. For example, the terminal Maasvlakte 2 project in Rotterdam Port is a large construction project with a 20 km2 enlargement of the harbor and amount of 290 million m3 of marine sand extraction off the Dutch coast. The project requires an extensive evaluation and careful communication with all actors involved (Stolk and Dijkshoorn 2009). Much improvement of the original plan was recognized by the public and experts (Bekebrede and Mayer 2006). The project evaluation experienced the period f extensive design and communication with the public from 1993 to 2008 (Koppenol 2014), and that was rare event in the same period for the port project evaluation in China.

How fast the tidal flat ecosystem changes?

The human activities in the coastal areas especially the continuously reclamation in the tidal flat was the main impact for the tidal falt ecosystem conserves. The central and local government cared more about the industry growth, sea port construction than the tidal flat conservation. In recently reclamation projects the long dyke cutted off the connection between the inner tidal flat and outer sea waters Another The dyke construction has radically changed not only the estuarine tidal system inside the dyke, but also the coastal marine environment outside the dyke, such as the red tide, hypoxia, and coastal erosion/deposition occur successively (Lie et al. 2008). The small scale tidal flat morphological changes in southern Jiangsu coast indicated the muddy and silty tidal flat was vanishing (Fig. 4). The sandy tidal flat would be the dominate environment in along the coast (Zhang et al. 2017).

During the process of the tidal flat disturbance, the ecological function of the tidal flat has greatly changed, and not suitable as the tidal flat habitat. Zhang (2008) analyzed the spatial changes of the tidal flat habitats in YWC, which indicated the obvious shrinking of the no disturbance, rich food and suitable vegetation coverage tidal flat(Table 4). That indicated the anthropogenic influence in the YWC was huge than the estimated in the adjustment of the YWC in 2012 in Jiangsu Province.
Table 4

Spatial changes of winter habitat types for red-crowned crane in YWC/ unit: ha

Habitat types




A: no disturbance, rich food and suitable vegetation coverage

B: no disturbance, rich food and unsuitable vegetation coverage

C: no disturbance, not rich food and suitable vegetation coverage

D: no disturbance, not rich food and unsuitable vegetation coverage

E: no disturbance, scare food and unsuitable vegetation coverage
















From: Zhang 2008

In China the coastal development policy in the past decades was much powerful and the evaluation process or decision-making process was usually in a short period and the limited participation of the public as well as the stakeholders would not influence the implementation of coastal projects. The salt marsh loss and ecological crisis is alarming along the coast of China (Ma et al. 2014). The improvement of the coastal development policy as well as the decision-making processes has more potentials in the future. Fast decision and quickly implement of the large coastal projects especially the continuous sea reclamation project resulted in the profound influence of the coastal environment and ecological crisis in the past decades along Jiangsu coast.


In the west coast of the South Yellow Sea, the tidal flat and salt marsh with important social and ecological value has experienced the fast loss trend in the past harf century, corresponding with the severe conflict between coastal development and coastal conservation in the past decade. The main tidal flat and salt marsh in the west edge of the Yellow Sea located in Jiangsu Province. Along Jiangsu coastal zone the main features of the tidal flat are the expanding seaward and the salt marsh covering the upper tidal flat. The development of the tidal flat in the coast of Jiangsu Province experienced three stages: the salt production, the slowly reclamation for agriculture and the quickly multi-object reclamation. From the Han Dynasty to the early time of 20th, the salt production and the slowly reclamation for agriculture did not strongly change the coastal ecosystem and the tidal flat landscape. The earlier reclamation usually in the upper part of the tidal flat and after the reclamation the tidal flat in front of the dike could adjusted themselves with the changes of the tidal ecosystem.

With the increasing population and the impact of socio-economic policy, the fast reclamation for aquaculture ponds and farming lands along Jiangsu coastal zone occupied large scale of the tidal flat resulting in the loss of more than 70% salt marsh in the past 60 years (Shen et al. 2006). The loss of the salt marsh changed the coastal ecosystem and the habitat for the migration rare birds.

The regulation of coastal wetland conserves in Jiangsu has not prevented the continuous reclamation and human disturbance in YWC, especially the port construction projects in YWC. Even the in the year of 2012, the approved the adjustment plan of the YWC. The new YWC area decreased 36,919 ha.

In China, the fast loss of salt marsh and tidal flat ecosystem function in the past decades was the policy oriented economic process and resulted the ecological alarming along Jiangsu coast, China. The improvement of the coastal development policy as well as the decision-making processes about coastal project evaluation would be a long way in the future. More strict regulations about the coastal conserves are needed.



The authors are grateful to the comments and suggestions by the anonymous reviewers. This study was supported by the Science and Technology Basic Resources Investigation Program of China (Project No. 2017FY201406) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Project No. 41371024).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cunli Liu
    • 1
  • Zhenke Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Xingqi Zhang
    • 1
  • Hang Ren
    • 1
  • Binglin Liu
    • 1
  • Zunlin Bao
    • 3
  • Zhang Xiaoxiang
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Geographic and Oceanographic SciencesNanjing UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Coast and Island Development of Ministry of EducationNanjing UniversityNanjingChina
  3. 3.State Key Laboratory of Estuarine and Coastal ResearchEast China Normal UniversityShanghaiChina
  4. 4.Institute of Geographical Information Science and EngineeringHohai UniversityNanjingChina

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