Environment Field Note: Wetlands

China is a country that is growing very quickly! Because of this, China has a lot of new buildings, factories, and production. All of this ‘development’ is a very good thing for China, but it is important to remember the environment when growing and building cities. All of the factories, cars, and burning of fuels have led to very polluted cities here. You might have heard on the news about ‘China’s smog.’ This is a haze you find in cities because the air is so polluted. Sometimes if you take a picture, it will come out very blurry because of smog. Another big problem in China is the lack of clean water. Here in China one should never drink tap water. In fact, my friends and I have never had any water from the faucet. Instead, we have big bottled water jugs that we use to drink.

China is very connected to the environment around it. As they grow and build more places for the citizens to live and businesses to work, the changes in the environment change around us. Unfortunately, all of the growth is really affecting the environment around it! Wetlands can help.  They are natural, sustainable ways to clean water and air. Do you know what sustainable means? It means something that is long-lasting. So rather than building a machine to clean water that can break and need repairs after a lot of use, wetlands are natural. They grow and clean forever!

I went to visit a town close to me, called Wuxi. Here they have a brand new, man-made wetland called Changguanxi Wetland Park located right by the factories to help clean the water for the community. The factories used to put all of their human and chemical waste into the Lake Tai. The pollution in Lake Tai was spoken about in the news all around the world. But now, with the new wetland, the water can be purified as it makes its way down to the lake because of all of the plants and ecosystems within the wetland.

What makes this environment special or different?

There are obviously a lot of people here in China, about 1.3 billion (compared to America’s 300 million.)  There are many things that make China amazing. This development is so fun to watch because it happens so quickly! In my time here I might get to see an entire neighborhood transform because construction happens so fast.

Some things I think are funny to watch. Because pollution here is so common, there is an iphone app that lets you check the level of pollution for the day. I have told you guys that for the holidays people in China like to set off fireworks all the time! Sometimes the fireworks start at 10 in the morning and go all the way through the night. Unlike in America where there are special places for fireworks, here people can set off fireworks anywhere! People are often setting off fireworks right outside of my window! So after a big day of fireworks, you can go on the pollution tracker and watch the levels increase just because of the firework celebration the day before!

But all of this construction, rapid growth, and living, the country’s environment and ecosystems are having difficulty keeping up. Wetlands are just one of the ways that we can help to clean the water, and hopefully have drinking water one day!

What parts of this environment help people to live here?

Wetlands would help many communities in China live more easily because it would clean the water and air around the cities and communities. With more wetlands, maybe at some point we can drink tap water and run outside!

Many people find it difficult to breathe clean air and often get sick due to the smog. Some students in school with me develop ‘asthmatic symptoms’ while here in Shanghai because of the air and have to use an inhaler. But as soon as they are back in the United States, they will not longer have this problem. Also, we can never drink tap water here. Even at restaurants, water is always bottled or boiling! In fact, a lot of restaurants serve water hot rather than cold.

How have people been adapting to this environment?

In China you might see a lot of people walking around with what looks like doctors’ masks on their faces. Some people tie scarves around their mouth and nose as well. They do this to protect themselves from the dust particles and polluted air.

When I first arrived in China, our school told us that if we wanted to exercise by jogging, it would be best not to run outside. A lot of students had to buy gym memberships because physical activity outside was too hard on our lungs. We also only drink water from bottles. Sometimes if you are making tea it is okay to drink the water after drinking. I think wetlands and trees are natural ways that can help clean our and air and water forever!

I think it is really cool that the Chinese government is starting to build and support environmentally safe ways of building their cities. In Wuxi, they had build a museum talking about why wetlands are so helpful for China and its cities!

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