Biodiversity Snapshot

The Yangtze has had more species become extinct than any other river in the world. While efforts are being made to restore the habitat for many animals, the river’s ability to sustain some of the precious life within has been severely limited.

IUCN red list species & status:

EXTINCT

Chinese Paddlefish
Extinct according to some sources, but listed as Critically endangered (IUCN 2009)

Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle Critically endangered, functionally extinct (IUCN 2018)

CRITICALLY ENDANGERED

Chinese Alligator

Yangtze River DolphinChinese Giant Salamander

Yangtze Sturgeon

CONTEXT:

The Three Gorges dam sits 40km upstream of the city of Yichang, Hubei province, on the mainstream of Asia’s longest river, the Yangtze, which traverses 6,000km to the eastern reaches of the country. The region is considered to be one of China’s most important for biodiversity. The ecological toll of the project has been immense and the dam has contributed to the extinction or near extinction of several species.

PROJECT IMPACTS:

The construction of the Three Gorges dam has caused significant and irreversible impacts to critically endangered species and critical natural habitats. Over 1,300 cultural and archeological sites and 100,000 hectares of agricultural land have been submerged by the reservoir, while also impacting the habitats of over 6,000 plant species, 500 terrestrial vertebrates and 400 species of fish along the Yangtze River.

DEVASTATING IMPACTS ON BIODIVERSITY AND HABITATS, NOW LOOKING TO MAKE AMENDS

According to Yangtze River Fisheries Research Institute, fish populations of the four species of carp have declined by close to 90% due to changes in river flows. Their spawning requirements had historically been triggered by changes in the water temperature during the late spring, which also faced degradation due to dredging and disconnection of floodplains from the mainstream. CTG notes that it has recently adopted measures to restore fish populations affected by the dam, including “establishing nature reserves; conducting research on species conservation, stock enhancement and releasing, and environmental flows.”

 

IMPACTS ON FRESHWATER SPECIES

A study in 2003 indicated that six species were at high risk of complete extinction with another 14 facing an uncertain future, with another two dozen that may only survive in the tributaries. At least one, the Chinese Paddlefish, has gone extinct and the Yangtze Chinese Softshell Turtle is functionally extinct as of 2019.

PROJECT IMPACTS

LESSONS

THREE GORGES DAM

China

World’s largest hydropower project on the Yangtze River has resulted in nearly unprecedented biodiversity loss for over 6000 plant species, 500 terrestrial vertebrates and over 400 species of fish. Now, society is trying to bring back what has been lost.

Three Gorges Dam Construction Site

Image by International Rivers

Extinct Chinese Paddlefish

Three Gorges Dam Construction

Image by International Rivers

Biodiversity Snapshot

The Yangtze has had more species become extinct than any other river in the world. While efforts are being made to restore the habitat for many animals, the river’s ability to sustain some of the precious life within has been severely limited.

IUCN red list species & status:

EXTINCT

Chinese Paddlefish
Extinct according to some sources, but listed as Critically endangered (IUCN 2009)

Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle Critically endangered, functionally extinct (IUCN 2018)

CRITICALLY ENDANGERED

Chinese Alligator

Yangtze River DolphinChinese Giant Salamander

Yangtze Sturgeon

Company: China Three Gorges

Impact Category

Critical Habitat

Impact Category

Biodiversity Hotspot

Impact Category

Food Security

CAPACITY

22,400 MW

COST

$31.765 billion​

STATUS

Operational

Local Community Impact​

The dam’s vast reservoir submerged cities and villages, prompting the forced displacement of more than 1.2 million people.

1. 

The dam is located in one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, and ecological considerations should have been prioritized during project design to prevent needless impacts on biodiversity.

2.

Irreversible impacts on critical natural habitats of the critically endangered Chinese Alligator, Yangtze River Dolphin, Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (functionally extinct), Chinese Giant Salamander, Yangtze Sturgeon, and the Chinese Paddlefish, which is reportedly extinct, should have prompted authorities to seek expert advice to ensure their protection.

3.

The withdrawal of key international state supporters due to foreseen environmental damages should have been a red flag and affirmation that loss of biodiversity would take place.