China's top environmental watchdog warned eight local governments on Wednesday about the invasion and destruction of nature reserves by illegal construction projects and told them not to seek economic growth at the expense of the reserves.
The Ministry of Ecology and Environment said there are still many illegal construction projects associated with mining, tourism, aquaculture and real estate in seven nature reserves that have caused great damage to the reserves and impaired their ecological functions.
Local Party committees and governments failed to fulfill their responsibility of supervision and management, and there were also violations of regulations, false reporting and perfunctory rectification. Illegal construction in nature reserves has not been effectively curbed, the ministry said.
Zhenjiang Finless Porpoise Reserve in Jiangsu Province, for example, is an important habitat for protecting the Yangtze finless porpoise, a severely endangered aquatic mammal. But an inspection by the ministry in June found 467 hectares of illegal agricultural cultivation and fisheries in the protected area, which damaged large areas of wetlands and harmed their ecological functions.
The ministry said that after its 2016 inspection, the Jiangsu government did not follow the authorities' rectification requirements to stop illegal projects and instead continued development on the river beach in the name of agricultural management and development.
Jinyun Mountain National Nature Reserve in Chongqing, a subtropical evergreen broadleaved forest area, has more than 60 rare animal and plant species. In April, the ministry conducted remote-sensing monitoring and found more than 500 illegal construction sites, including tourist facilities and mining, in the protected areas, with 16 new ones added and 76 expanded since 2015.
Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the severity of destruction in nature reserves shows that local governments still attach more importance to economic development and political achievement than environmental protection.
The ministry should have a stricter assessment system, which will put greater pressure on local environmental protection departments, Ma said.
"It is important to involve the public and research institutes in supervision so that people can tip off authorities in the event of illegal behavior," he said.
The ministry requires local governments to strengthen supervision and management and pay close attention to rectifying their problems.