SEAN GALLAGHER, FOR THE PULITZER CENTER, BEIJING, CHINA
John MacKinnon, of the EU-China Biodiversity Program, is one the world’s leading experts on biodiversity and the environment in China. He began his career in 1965 working with Jane Goodall in the famed study of the chimpanzees of Gombe. In 1968, he moved to Southeast Asia to study orangutans under the supervision of Nobel laureate Niko Tinbergen.
MacKinnon first went to China in 1987 to work on the World Wildlife Fund’s Giant Panda project. He is an expert and author of 17 books on birds and mammals in China and has served for 14 years as co-chair for the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development. He was awarded the prestigious Order of Golden Ark, with highest rank of Commander by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands for his lifetime services to conservation.
I caught up with him last month in the Beijing headquarters of the EU-China Biodiversity Program where we discussed some of the issues currently facing China’s wetlands.
This is an abridged version of the interview.
What are your thoughts with regard to biodiversity affected by wetland disappearance?
Probably of all ecosystems, wetlands are the most endangered because water is just used by people everywhere. So there is hardly a stream in China that doesn’t have somebody putting [something] into it or taking water out of it.
Everything is messed up with pollution–pipes taking off water for agriculture, for industry, for household use, building weirs across rivers to divert the water into little gullies. And then it gets bigger and bigger, up to these huge dams that the government has been putting in all over the place. China has thousands of these dams now which are having a profound impact on the water system. It means that fish and frogs can no longer move up and down river systems. Some are seasonal and need to go up into the head stream in the summer and lay eggs where the young can breed. And then in the winter these are frozen up, so they have to move down to the lower waters. Can’t do it anymore. So a lot of the species, a lot of the fish are endangered. Some are extinct.