MSU professor on international team finding China’s economic boom a bust for its marine resources.

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China’s 35-year quest to prosperity has exacted a steep price from its coastal ecosystems, a team of American and Chinese scientists report.

It’s not total human population growth that has degraded marine life along China’s coast to a near-irreversible point. Rather, scientists, including Michigan State University’s Jianguo “Jack” Liu, say the booming industrialization that began in 1978 has shifted populations to newly developed coasts, bringing with them pollution, coastal degradation and over fishing.

The paper, “Economic development and coastal ecosystem change in China,” in the journal Scientific Reports was an Editor’s Choice in the Aug. 15 Science Magazine. The scientists analyzed five decades of socioeconomic and environmental data, expanding the understanding of a country’s environmental changes beyond air pollution and water supply degradation.

“These findings, which most likely are mirrored in other rapidly developing areas across the globe, show us how close human actions are coupled with nature,” said Liu, who is the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and director of MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. “Such human-nature interactions also have severe consequences far from China’s coasts.”

China’s coast is home to 28,000 different marine species and half the country’s 1.3 billion people. As industrial and economic growth blossomed since the late 70s, so have the algal blooms known as red tides, which threaten fish populations. Coral has died and fish populations have dwindled.

Science Magazine notes, “The authors highlight the need for a national policy of environmental management to protect the coupled human-ocean ecosystem.”

The paper ‘s first author is Qiang He, a marine ecologist from Beijing Normal University.

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