I wrote about my travels through China earlier in the year, even managing to work algae into one of my posts (see “Older … but not necessarily wiser?”). My son, Ed, however, has managed to beat me at my own game, sending some pictures he took during his travels at the end of his year teaching in Chongqing.
He had flown to Qingdao, in north-east China en route back to Beijing and, from there to the UK. Qingdao is on the Yellow Sea and was, in the past, a German concession, similar in status to Hong Kong or Shanghai. Now, it is a major port and manufacturing centre, with the German heritage still evident in the huge Tsingtao brewery. Like many other parts of China, however, the rapid economic growth has been accompanied by environmental problems. In the case of Qingdao, one of the most conspicuous manifestations of this is the enormous masses of green algae which appear annually on the coasts, and which have to be removed manually from the beaches in order to protect the tourist industry.
The alga that is responsible for these enormous growths is Ulva (formerly Enteromorpha) prolifera. We have met this genus of algae before in both freshwater (see “The River Wear in summer”) and marine (see “Venice’s green fringe”) environments. Members of the genus often thrive in the shallow littoral zones of coasts where there is enrichment with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that plants need in order to thrive. The rapid expansion of China’s industrial cities, coupled with limited environmental regulation has, in this particular situation, created a classic imbalance: one species thrives, whilst others are smothered or have no oxygen due to the prolific growth of the alga.
Collecting Ulva prolifera on a beach in Qingdao, Shandong Province, China, July 2016. Lower picture: a heap of Ulva prolifera. The upper picture shows Qingdao’s shoreline.
We see similar imbalances in the coastline around Britain; however, the scale is inevitably much greater in China. Writing about China demands superlatives, but western liberals need to reserve at least one of these superlatives for their own righteous indignation that accompanies almost any article about China’s environment (see “Reflections from the banks of the Yangtze”). The growth of the Chinese economy is, in large part, fuelled by China’s own citizen’s desire for the same consumer goods that we in the West take for granted.