This gallery is part of a special National Geographic News series on global water issues.
A farmer works in the rice fields on the Leizhou Peninsula in Guangdong Province in southern China. The expansion of rice paddies and shrimp farms in this part of Guangdong near the South China Sea is the leading reason for the destruction of mangrove forests, a critical type of wetland habitat for aquatic species protection, water quality, and flood control. Mangrove forests are fragile ecosystems that serve as reservoirs of biodiversity, and their rich nutrient base and coastal location make them ideal hatcheries for wild shrimp and other aquatic species. Even the mudflats between mangrove patches have habitat value and are home to migratory birds.
"We see a growing recognition in China for saving specific high-value wetland areas. More and more important sites are protected," says Chen Kelin, director of Wetlands International's China office. But, he adds, "there is still a need for additional steps to stop the rapid loss of the many other wetlands due to overgrazing and drainage and to prevent wetland loss due to schemes like dams and water diversion."
China's increasing population and rising food demand is fueling a boom in both rice and seafood production in the region. Ironically, the mangroves—home to wild shrimp—are being cleared to make room for commercial shrimp aquaculture.
China has 61 million acres of wetlands, which include swamps, mangroves, lagoons, river deltas, lakes, and coastal areas that collectively cover about 2.5 percent of the country.