Cargo vessels witness green development of Yangtze River

The water level of the Three Gorges Reservoir dropped in June 2020, which created a fluctuating zone all covered by vegetation with a height of 30 meters. Photo by Huang Shanjun, People's Daily Online

“To see crystal clear water in the Yangtze River, it used to be unimaginable” said Wang Shunhua, captain of a shipping company based in southwest China’s Chongqing municipality, when his vessel entered the Three Gorges Reservoir and rippled the water surface.

“The water in the reservoir has a high visibility. Sometimes I can see beyond 2 meters under the surface,” Wang noted, standing on the deck and looking at the green mountains on the bank. These mountains were barely stones in the past, but now they have been fully covered by trees.

Earlier this year, Chongqing municipality unveiled an “ecological protection red line,” an “environment limit,” a “cap for natural resource exploitation,” as well as an ecological environment access list, becoming the first one to do so among the 11 provinces and municipalities along the Yangtze River Economic Belt.

According to an official from the municipality’s ecology and environment bureau, Chongqing will keep banning industries that pose pollution risks within a range of 1 kilometer from the banks of the mainstream and major tributaries of the Yangtze River, including chemical engineering, textile and papermaking. In addition, new industrial parks will not be allowed to be built within a range of 5 kilometers from the river banks.

Riverside parks have been built to green the urban area. Outside the cities, river banks are also covered by shades of green. “Narrow-ridged finless porpoise, a first-grade state protection animal, were seen jumping above the river in January this year.” Wang told People’s Daily.

Wang introduced that when he was just employed, his vessel was powered by diesel. In June 2018, two diesel vessels of his company were added with liquefied natural gas (LNG) power system, and the vessel he now works on is one of them. Now the two ships consume less fuel compared with traditionally powered ships, which significantly reduce the cost for the company.

According to Wang, it saves over 3,000 yuan for a trip from Chongqing’s Guoyuan port to Yichang port in central China’s Hubei province. In addition, the LNG-powered vessels are more environmentally friendly. They can reduce 90 percent of oxynitride emission, and almost 100 percent of sulfur oxide and PM2.5.

“Our crew members live on the deck, and due to the lack of the awareness of environmental protection, we used to pour our sewage into the river,” he said. Thanks to continuous persuasion, education and supervision, now the crew members would throw nothing into the river, he said.

Today, nearly 120,000 cargo vessels are running in the Yangtze River system, which means hundreds of thousands of crew members are living on the rivers. This would produce massive pollutants. Therefore, regions concerned are implementing increasingly stricter regulations, with some even requiring zero discharge from these vessels.

“When our ship arrives in Jiangsu province, we are asked to first deal with our garbage at port terminals before starting working,” Wang told People’s Daily. Other provinces are also following Jiangsu’s practice, he said, adding that similar terminals have been put into service in Chongqing, Yichang and Anqing in east China’s Anhui province.

In recent years, the provinces and municipalities along the Yangtze River, by implementing green development vision, has constantly improved local ecology and nurtured prospering green industries.

Zhacai, a kind of Chinese preserved pickles, is a well-known product of Chongqing’s Fuling district. However, the water used to make zhacai was always discharged into the Yangtze River in the past. Nowadays, the water is used to make high-quality seasoning sauce, which makes the industry greener and more sustainable.

Chongqing’s Changshou Economic and Technological Development Zone has improved its environmental protection infrastructure and established an incubation platform for circular economy. Over 30 circular economy projects have been launched, and 97 percent of industrial solid wastes are recycled.

Chongqing’s Wanzhou district, located in the Three Gorges Reservoir region, has shut down its heavy chemical, electroplate and papermaking industries. It resorts to green industrial clusters, established circular industrial parks, and cultivated smart manufacturing, to push for green, recycled, smart and intensive development of industries.

Green industries are bringing changes to the cargos of river transport in the Yangtze River, Wang said. “The cargos transported from Chongqing to lower reaches of the river have turned into automobiles and machinery, while spare parts and all kinds of industrial raw materials are being shipped back,” he told People’s Daily.

Green industries also generate huge economic benefits. “Five years ago, my vessel was a big one on the river, but now the biggest one can reach 14,000 tonnes. Around every ten minutes I can encounter a vessel in the upper stream, but in the lower stream, vessels are passing one by one,” Wang said, adding that the shipping capacity of the river has increased several times in the recent years.

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