China's Yangtze River Dolphin Now Extinct, More Species Threatened
China has been grappling with its worst heat wave on record and the Yangtze, the third longest river in the world, is drying up.
Photo Insert: The baji is a species of freshwater dolphin native to the Yangtze river system in China believed to be extinct.
With rainfall below average since July, its water levels have plunged to record lows of 50% of their normal levels for this time of year, exposing cracked river beds and even revealing submerged islands, Heather Chen reported for CNN.
The drought has already had a devastating effect on China’s most important river, which stretches an estimated 6,300 kilometers (3,900 miles) from the Tibetan plateau to the East China Sea near Shanghai and provides water, food, transport, and hydroelectric power to more than 400 million people.
The human impact has been enormous. Factories were shut to preserve electricity and water supplies for tens of thousands of people have been affected.
Less talked about, experts say, is the environmental impact that climate change and associated extreme weather events have had on the hundreds of protected and threatened wildlife and plant species living in and around the river.
“The Yangtze is one of the world’s most ecologically critical rivers for biodiversity and freshwater ecosystems — and we are still discovering new species yearly,” said conservation ecologist Hua Fangyuan, an assistant professor from Peking University. “Many of the little [known] and unknown fish and other aquatic species are most likely facing extinction risks silently and we simply do not know enough.”
The goddess of Yangtze, the river dolphin baiji, is now extinct.
Over the years conservationists and scientists have identified and documented hundreds of wild animal and plant species native to the Yangtze.
Among them are the Yangtze finless porpoise which, similar to the baiji, faces extinction due to human activity and habitat loss, and critically endangered reptiles like the Chinese alligator and Yangtze giant softshell turtle — believed to be the largest living species of freshwater turtle in the world.
Experts have also noticed a drastic decline of many native freshwater species of fish, like the now-extinct Chinese paddlefish and sturgeon.
At high risk is the Chinese giant salamander, one of the largest amphibians in the world. Wild populations have crashed and the species is “now on the verge of extinction.”