Zhangjiagang Bay: Practice of Ecological Restoration in China


Zhangjiagang Bay is the last bay before Yangtze River enters the sea and also the first bay where the sea and river meets. Although there were many polluting enterprises and infest-breeding industries, the port is very important to the transportation of the Yangtze River and the economy of Zhangjiagang. Between keeping the existing port area or restoring ecology, the local government chose the latter. Following the UN 2030 Agenda, the practice of Zhangjiagang Bay provides pertinent reference for green and low-carbon development and ecological civilization, that allows for living well within the eco limits, in lower reaches of the Yangtze River and other industrial wharf areas worldwide.


Centred on the national strategy of “Great Protection of the Yangtze River” and riverside ecological restoration, the project has three main goals. First, to convert the industrial land along the river into ecological land so as to realize industrial retreat and restore the river shoreline. Meanwhile, to restore the wetland along the river, and to purify the water while implementing the ten-year fishing ban. Second, to adopt low-impact development, build high-standard dike and ecological landscaping, restrict commercial development and recover the ecosystem. Third, combined with the local cultural features and further-improved ecological environment in Xiang Hill and Shuanshan Island, to guide villages to carry out a variety of green development, such as eco-tourism and modern agriculture, and enhance the public awareness of greening.

Contribution to SDG Implementation

The project eliminates low-efficiency industries, optimizes spatial layout and builds ecological wetland and corridor. It firmly restricts fisheries and commerce, brings wild life and improves water and land quality. These practices are direct to ensuring clean water, industrial restructuring, protection of ecological resources and underwater creatures (SDGs 6, 9, 13, 14, 15). Besides, the restored ecological space is open to the public and local villages further develop eco-tourism and cultural tourism, which creates the employment of villagers and improves their happiness (SDGs 3, 4, 8, 11).

Implementation methodologies

In 2016, China’s central government set up a strategy of “Great Protection of the Yangtze River”, emphasizing the value of environmental economics. In January 2019, a follow-up “Action Plan” was released, pushing forward the protection and restoration of the Yangtze River. Soon after, Zhangjiagang municipal government established the strategic goal of ecological restoration along its 12km coast and formulated the “Zhangjiagang Bay Concept Plan”, focusing mainly on land use change, ecological restoration and rural planning. Back in 2010, local government has begun to clean up enterprises and unapproved construction and ban docks. Since the new 2019 plan, Zhangjiagang Bay Management Office was responsible for the coordination and management. Nearly 26 high-polluting fishing farms and semi-operational port enterprises were removed with agreed compensation based on specified standards, limiting negative impacts to employees. Some of the industrial and port infrastructure was deliberately retained as industrial heritage. Meanwhile, the scheme design was started since June 2019, followed with completion of the main part of construction by December 2020. A total of 3.76 billion RMB is invested to dike reconstruction, shoreline restoration, ecological restoration, road optimization and landscape improvement, aiming to build a 1.4 million m2 waterfront hydrophilic landscape belt. It is financed by Zhangjiagang local government, with future environmental premium and new industries to supplement later. Besides, based on the ecological protection of adjacent Shuanshan Island since 2010, surrounding villages in the region, such as Yongxing Village, have actively built ecological parks, conserved historic houses and brought prosperity to villagers with cultural and eco-tourism.


Once surrounded by high-pollution factories and docks, local residents couldn’t see the river and suffered the pollution. The project has restored the local environment and ecology, protected the creature living places of the Yangtze River Estuary and improved safety of drinking water. So far over 30 hectare of reed and 60,000 m2 greening space has been restored, with endangered specifies being observed again. The local industrial legacy was carefully kept and industrial waste recycled and made into landscape sketches by utilizing the steel making and 3D printing technology of local enterprises. In result, new space of ecological scenery and industrial memory has been created, enhancing the public awareness of ecological value and protection. Further, the infrastructure has been largely improved, based on which leisure agriculture and culture tourism has been practiced in the local villages, where water and soil quality monitoring has been imposed to promote low impact development.

Factors and Constraints

First, China’s national strategy of Yangtze River protection provides a key institutional basis for consensus building. Second, the considerable investment of fund, human capital and local plan-making reflects the determination of the local government in environmental protection and overcoming difficulties. Third, continuous preparation of port rectification since 2010 has laid solid ground for the accelerated phases since 2019. Fourth, the integration of professional groups, expertise and key technologies ensure quality delivery. Although, the long-term costs of investment and maintenance of ecology and environment is a main constraint.

Sustainability and replicability

Before carrying out the Zhangjiagang Bay project, it has undergone field studies on the potential socio-economic impacts and professional planning. Consensus has been widely built, showing a firm adherence supported by formal plans. The popularization of ecological science and annual Yangtze River Culture Festival since 2004 imperceptibly raise the awareness of ecological protection into the daily life of citizens, and social media publicity since its opening up further spreads its ecological protection effects and arouses attention. The project implementation ascribes to clear goal-setting, plan formalization, good team coordination. Such institutional building brings useful reference to other riparian areas along the Yangtze River, Huang River or others keen to recover the ecology from polluting industries. Meanwhile, the removal of industries, the restoration of ecological features, control of commercial and planning of cultural activities can all be thoughts of replicability.

COVID-19 Impact

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the ecological engineering departments of Zhangjiagang Bay project immediately developed responses and maintained zero infection in the area. Special vehicles were used to pick up construction workers in batches. Close attention was paid to their health status and regular disinfection on the construction site was conducted. Meanwhile, regular estimates of construction materials were made in advance and the government coordinates the transportation of materials to ensure timely supply. An information communication system of regular reporting of progress and problems was also established. the project was officially resumed in February 2020, the work efficiency was further improved and the main project was completed according to the original plan in 4 months.