Chinese engineering project halted for good porpoise

In a rare triumph of wildlife over engineering in China, a waterway construction project on the Yangtze River has been called off out of concern for porpoises.

The $80m (500m yuan) project to build a channel at the Anqing River, a section of the Yangtze in Anhui Province, was called off by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection on 27 November because it could harm the black finless porpoises that live there, according to a report in state-run news website,

"This is unprecedented in the history of the country’s water conservancy projects," the report commented.

Sometimes known as "river pigs", the finless porpoise is a 1.9-meter-long cetacean mammal that has lived in the Yangtze for 25 million years, according to the report.

But due to heavy shipping traffic and engineering projects their number has decreased to less than 1,000. In 1996, black finless porpoises were included by the International Union for Conservation of Nature on its list of "extremely endangered" species. 

The Anhui section of the Yangtze is home to a concentrated population of the porpoises: about 200 live there.

"It’s a good start," said Yu Daoping, an expert in biology at Anqing Teachers’ College, adding that the porpoises were often given lower priority than engineering projects in fast developing China.

The report said the suspension "dealt a heavy blow" to local governments and construction companies.

Photograph: A finless porpoise at Miyajima Aquarium, Japan (ori2uru/Wikimedia Commons)

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