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Biodiversity Diary a trip to Hainan — Hefen Lu and John MacKinnon



The evening sky at Nanwan

Floating fishing village Ipomea flowers

Fishing boats of all sizes



The beach at Nanwan

Beach pandanus fruit

Sand crab

Ipomea can colonise sandy beaches


Tropical seaside The south coast of Hainan is unlike the rest of China but similar to SE Asia with white sandy beaches colonized by Spinifex grass and Ipomea pres-caprae vines. Sand crabs are busy rolling balls of sand from their burrows before the next tide.


Biodiversity Diary ECBP Newsletter Supplements August 27-31 2009

Casuarina and coconut trees line the shoreline and coral reefs and rich fisheries await in the blue sea. Villages are surrounded by tropical fruit trees – mangos, papayas, rambutans and mangosteens. But more precious than these are the native Litchi bushes for this is their natural home and wild trees can still be found in the nearby forests. Coconut palms sway in the breeze

As dusk falls hundreds of fishing boats chug noisily out for a night of fishing for squid and mackerel to supply the huge demand from growing tourism in the new tropical vacation boom where there was only a few years ago, poor shanty villages of hardy fishermen and lurking danger of snakes and malaria riddled mosquitos. The fishing villages of today have large cages in the water for holding and rearing the more valuable fish. Huge groupers lurk in these with sometimes a turtle for companionship. Some rafts are used to rear oysters and both the eating of oysters and sale of pearls creates a win win industry.

Bananas and papayas

In Linshui county there is a cable car taking visitors to the island of Nan Wan where wild rhesus macaques earn their masters a huge fortune as tourist attrac-



Saving forests and agro-biodiversity tions. Wild monkeys have been trained to dive into a miniature swimming pool to retrieve peanuts and there is a monkey prison awaiting any monkey that scratches or hurts any of the tourists. ECBP support a project with the Land and resources Ministry to undertake integration of biodiversity into the planning of both

GTZ Project staff shows off the medicinal gingers

Cultivating hill rice preserves genes but damages environment

Lingshui and Ledong counties. We visited one village involved in the project and also the Diaoluoshan national nature reserve where lowland forest still exists and there was indeed evidence of great biodiversity richness with hundreds of species of trees, other plants and wildlife visible.

Local family in Lingshui village

Experimental hill rice fields




We saw huge Birdwing butterflies (Troides spp) gliding over the forest in search of their Atistolochia vine food plants. Tiny frogs perched on rocks in the clear stream incessantly emitting their loud chirping calls. Leeches looped along trails after the scent of fresh blood. In a museum near the entrance to the reserve was a collection of plant specimens, butterflies, stuffed birds and turtles.



Water buffalo


Mountains and rice paddies

Despite the richness of tropical agriculture, the local farmers remain poor and overtaken by economic development along the coasts.

White Peduncularis Smelling the ginger roots Betle-nut trees Areca catechu

Inspecting the dried fish Waterfall

The project has mapped biodiversity in the county by overlaying the results of several different taxonomic surveys, combining the results into a single layer that can be used in zoning and planning further developments in the county.

Miao women chat in village

The reserve itself is precious because the once totally forested island is now reduced to less than 30% forest cover but only about

7% cover is natural forest and that mostly in the biologically less rich mountains. So a patch of natural lowland forest such as this is rich, threatened and a definite biodiversity hotspot that must be given special protection. Its significance is even greater because it is connected directly to the montane forests of



Monkeys and mountains Wuzishan allowing altitudinal species exchange that will become ever more important as global climate continues to rise. We spent another two days in the adjacent Wuzishan county where ECBP has part of another project – the GTZ agrobiodiversity project. Here we met project staff and local county officials and visited one of the Miao minority villages where project activities are taking place.

Macaque in forest

Rare Hainan gibbons live in Bawangling whilst the common rhesus macaque occurs in several lowland

Wuzishan nature reserve


Leeches lurk in the dark rainforests amid palms and waterfalls

Photo Jianbin

Feral hibiscus

A great wealth of plants live in the warm humid conditions

Diaoluoshan Nature reserve

A plump marmot enjoys the sunshine beside his complex warren and a mother and chick of the black-necked cranes find easy food BIODIVERSITY






Biotreasure in the forest

Rich secondary forests

The thumb of Wuzishan

Both the Li and Miao minorities have nurtured a wide range of agricultural varieties over the centuries and although these may not compete with some of the new hybrid crops available in terms of yield, they have the advantages of being closely adapted to local conditions, form part of local culture (ceremonies, medicines and diet) and contain important genetic resources that may be needed in future crop improvement research. It was after all right here in Hainan that a

wild rice variety was discovered that has proved fundamental in the creation of all the Chinese high yield hybrid rice varieties. Indeed the GTZ project also includes a component to protect wild rice localities on Hainan.

Wild palm sugar Arenga

Japanese White-eye

Wild bananas in forest

The montane forests maintain a genepool of many relatives of domestic species



Our visit included a rainy visit to the rice paddies to see hills of upland rice. One of the field staff was trying to develop a shorter variety of the upland rice that would prove less vulnerable to typhoons and could also grow with paddy rice in irrigated fields. For although it is important to maintain stock of the hill varieties, there is also no room for the slash and burn style of agriculture for which it is adapted. The poisonous sap of the Antiaris toxicara tree was used to

The project encourages villagers to grow a range of medicinal plants under fruit trees in their village – species that they formerly gathered from the wild forests. These include several gingers that fetch good prices as well as rearing mushrooms.

tip arrows

Standing proud in the background rose the conical peak of Wuzishan itself. At 1867m this is Hainan’s highest peak and the upper slopes remain uncut and pristine. We visited the nature reserve, got soaked in the afternoon rain, bitten by leeches and met the director to discuss ideas for the development of an educational museum for the nature reserve. One immediate suggestion fell in place to exhibit the ethnobotany of the Li and Miao minorities already so nicely documented by the ECBP GTZ project.

Whiteeye feeds on ripe figs

A final night in Sanya allowed us to see the extraordinary pace at which the coast has been developed for tourism. Majestic hotels sprout everywhere, supermarkets offer the full range of latest brand name fashion. Local pearls are displayed in expensive jewelry and we dined on fresh sea food to the horror of our children who refused to eat the cooked-alive prawns and shellfish so appreciated by our fellow diners.

Wuzishan rises above the central landscape of forests and farmlands



Lingshui streets




Threats of invasion—rubber and alien plants

Huge areas of lowland forests of Hainan were cleared to make way for rubber plantations

Acacias and Eucalyptus are invading open hillsides

Invading Rosy periwinkle

Attractive invader—Mimosa


EU-China Biodiversity Programme Add: Rm. 503, FECO Plaza, No. 5 Huoyingfang Hutong, Xicheng District, Beijing. 100035, P.R. China Fax: (+8610) 8220 5421 Email:

ECBP Hainan  

ECBP's Biodiversity survey in Hainan

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