Love Her Deeply: An Account of the Conservation of the Aquatic Life of Heishuitan River

Villagers volunteer to release fish fry to the river for restoring aquatic life.

By Wang Pei (Group Leader of Heishuitan River Ecology Conservation Group, a residents’ organisation of the old town of Pianyan in Beibei District of Chongqing City).
Photos by Wang Pei, Chongqing Public River Environment Protection Cultural Centre

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Map of Heishuitan River showing its geographical location. In the area around Heishuitan River, some people still practice electro-fishing and fish poisoning. Here a man carries the equipment for this purpose.
Two people engage in illegal activities, while a volunteer tries to stop them. Villagers volunteer to release fish fry to the river for restoring aquatic life.
Villagers release fish to the river to let them grow freely. Local people are mobilised to clear the garbage along the river.
The writer and members of his group try to influence other residents by practicing what they preach. Propaganda against fish poisoning and electro-fishing undertaken in a community cultural programme.

Heishuitan River is located in Jindao Gorge in Beibei District of Chongqing City. It is 5km long and is the main source of  irrigation and drinking water for the local people. For hundreds of years, the river nourished the hardworking, courageous, passionate and friendly townsfolk of the old town of Pianyan. The river was so clear that you could see swarms of fish and prawns chasing each other and enjoying life. However, such scenes now remain only in the memories of the older generation.

The Beauty of the River Bank in the Old Days

The banks of Heishuitan River are lined with hundred-year-old trees of Ficus virens, with the lush green leaves forming an emerald canopy providing shade from the sun. Tourists visit the renowned old town in the Spring Festival and during the summer holiday. Students and teachers, who have come to paint the river, become one with nature as they express themselves through their drawings and paint a beautiful life and future for themselves. Even the birds refuse to let the beautiful scenery slip by. They catch fish and prawns from the river and build nests on trees to raise their chicks. However, as its aquatic inhabitants disappear one after another, Heishuitan no longer looks the same. The older generation of townsfolk, who have seen its natural beauty, could never forget the Heishuitan of the old days while the younger generation immerse themselves in the surface of existence. When there are no longer any fish, prawns or frogs in a river, can you still call it a river?

Let us consider how this has happened. Anthropocentric ideas and the ideology of economic development have resulted in the old town and Heishuitan River being subjected to the tragic war to defeat and conquer nature. Because of industrial pollution, domestic wastewater, plastic garbage, and damaging fishing practices, the aquatic life of the river has been destroyed. Some aquatic species have become extinct. The few wild carp, silver carp and frogs that remain are also becoming delicacies on dining tables. These harsh realities are signaling to people who have a conscience and sense of moral responsibility that it is time to reflect deeply on what is happening. We often think that such things should not have happened and admonish those who destroy the environment. We have complained to the government to no avail. But if we want a new life for our town in which an ecological culture prospers, we have to take action ourselves. We should take on the challenge of creating a beautiful environment with intelligence, courage and perseverance. 

Actions in the Midst of Pain and Hopelessness

Our sense of hopeless despair was finally alleviated when we met up with PCD staff who had come to the town to conduct a survey and a study. They heard us lamenting what was happening and encouraged us to build a local group to protect our own home. We successfully applied for a small amount of funding,from PCD and set up a non-governmental group to protect Heishuitan River, comprising ten people. Even though it was a small fund, it was hugely encouraging for our group, which had always wanted to do something. After our organisation was established, we put up report stations and posters along the riverbank. We have also been mobilising local villagers to take part in activities aimed at protecting the aquatic life of the river. We occasionally patrol the river at night, and thanks to reports made by other citizens, we caught a few people who were electro-fishing or using poison to catch fish in the river. We seized their tools and took them to the police where they were fined. We also tried to educate them and persuaded them to join us as volunteers. I remember not long after the group was set up, we caught an electro-fisher, seized his tools and took him to the police. At first he was sceptical, but after we had explained to him the damage caused by electro-fishing, he felt embarrassed  as well as encouraged by us so that he no longer catches fish in the river and also gives us information about activities of electro-fishing he knows. As we worked to put an end to the practices of electro-fishing and fishing using explosives, some townsfolk set up a group to release fish in the river on their own initiative. They released several tens of catties of fish fry into the river, to live and grow freely. In this way, new blood has been added to the aquatic life of the river in the old town.

Protecting Our Home with a Deep Love

In addition to electro-fishing and fish poisoning, pollution is another important threat to the river's fish, especially that caused by garbage dumping in the upper reaches of the river. Because of this, we have been conducting propaganda and educational
activities in upstream communities, and have been trying to influence people’s behavior by practicing what we preach. We have been collecting garbage, organising cultural activities and undertaking educational work on traditional culture. We hope to reflect on the root cause of the problems as we explore ways to address the unharmonious relationships among human beings and between human beings and nature.

Many people sense the importance of environmental protection but find it difficult to put it into practice in real life. Motivated by affection for the local community and a profound love of our home town, we want to become seeds of hope and spur more people into action.