Nearly 4,900 types of tropical and sub-tropical plants, including 150 rare ones, found in Hainan province of China are under immediate threat. Long regarded as China's largest botanical garden, the island is home to various plant and animal species. Major damage to rainforests in the province has already affected the biodiversity and ecological balance of the green island.
However, much of the lush green rainforest has been lost after more than 150 development zones were built on the island in the last 20 years. The island covers a total area of 425 square kilometres. By the mid-1990s, the total area of rainforests shrank to 64,300 hectares (ha), covering less than two per cent of the land in the province, local newspapers have reported. The diminishing rainforest has caused a sharp decline of rare animal species found on the island, because these animals can no longer find enough food and shelter. Among the victims, are special species of gibbon that are not found anywhere else outside the island, according to the newspaper.
In the 1950s, there were about 2,000 such gibbons in Hainan. Less than 50 years later, the total number has dropped below 20. Moreover, because forests function as reservoirs to influence precipitation, the shrinking rain forest in Hainan is causing disastrous weather changes in the province, such as prolonged periods of drought and water shortages. Drought periods in the province have grown four times in the past 50 years, according to reports. At present, 22,000 ha of land, mostly in the central part of the island, suffer from severe soil erosion, statistics from the Hainan Tropical Forest Protection and Rehabilitation Office indicated.
Experts urged the local government to stop all economic development or tourism projects that threaten to further aggravate and damage the rain forest. They called for better protection of the Wuzhishan Natural Reserve in central and southern parts of the province. A proposed construction of a road through a natural reserve to help tourism recently aroused strong opposition from the experts.
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