“Things will only get worse if we don’t do anything.”
Citizen Day 2021 is a testimony of Solvay’s commitment to biodiversity
Rebecca Fang, Assistant to the Solvay Zhenjiang site General Manager, grew up near one of the most beautiful biodiversity hotspots in the world: China’s Yangtze River. Profoundly affected by the deterioration of natural habitats in the region, she and her Solvay colleagues are now committed to helping save one of its remaining jewels – the finless porpoise.
Not many people get to see wild dolphins near their home. Rebecca Fang was one of the lucky few, long before she became Assistant to the Zhenjiang site’s General Manager. “Zhenjiang is a very beautiful city along the Yangtze river. I grew up on an island there, and sometimes we could see Chinese sturgeons or white-flag dolphins – also known as Baji – passing by,” she recalls.
But her beloved city has changed a lot since she was a kid. The white-flag dolphin – one of the very few dolphin races living in freshwater – is now presumed to have gone extinct. The last confirmed sighting occurred in 2004, just one year after Chinese authorities decided to protect this species considered by scientists to be even more precious than the giant panda.
A wake-up call for ecological preservation
For many Chinese citizens like Rebecca, the news of white-flag dolphins’ disappearance was a wake-up call. Increasing pressure from the chemical industry had reached critical levels and pushed the government to draw an “ecological red line.” Up until 2015, 40 billion tonnes of industrial liquid waste had been discharged in the river every year.
But the Yangtze River is now regaining some color. All 8,000 high-pollution factories in its vicinity have been progressively relocated. Carriage of a range of highly toxic and dangerous chemicals is completely banned, and the Yangtze River Protection Law explicitly states that “all local people's governments in the Yangtze River basin shall protect and restore the ecology and environment in their respective administrative areas, promote the rational and efficient use of resources, improve the industrial structure and layout, and maintain ecological security in the Yangtze River basin.”
Whilst relieved, Rebecca remains wary of the work still to be done. “The real problem comes from a lack of awareness and timely action. I used to think that all endangered species were protected, but clearly we haven’t been doing enough. There are other threatened species we take for granted, and we can’t afford to make the same mistake again,” she notes.
Solvay’s Citizen Day 2021 ought to be a good starting point, and a testimony of Solvay’s commitment to lead by example. Our Zhenjiang site’s campaign “Smile now to build the Yangtze river’s future” will focus on protecting yet another unique species living in the region: the finless porpoise. “We are still in the early conception stage of the campaign, but some of the ideas currently on the table include a music video involving our employees and their families, the organisation of a charity bazaar with sales benefitting a finless porpoise protection association, and crafting activities with kids,” Rebecca explains.
Through her active involvement in the campaign, Rebecca hopes to see more and more people militating for the protection of dolphins in the Yangtze river. “We don’t know if our actions can really change things, but one thing is certain: they will only get worse if we don’t do anything at all. Maybe the right actions at the right time can enable us to see dolphins in the Yangtze river once again in a distant future, and that thought alone is worth all of our efforts,” she concludes.