China to establish national park at Qinghai Lake, Tibet

Qinghai (青海), which literally means ‘blue sea’, is an inland province in central west China, adjacent to Xinjiang, Tibet, Sichuan, and Gansu. It is famed for its spectacular scenery, multi-ethnic minority culture, and rich Buddhist heritage throughout the region.

China has nominated Qinghai Lake for the World Heritage List where its is currently on the Tentative List (the first stage of assessment).

Qinghai Lake

XINING, June 7 (Xinhua) — China has approved a plan to establish a national park at Qinghai Lake in northwest China’s Qinghai Province, local authorities said Tuesday.

Gao Jingyu, deputy director of the protection and utilization administration in the Qinghai Lake scenic area, said that the administration will strive to complete the establishment of the Qinghai Lake National Park in 2024.

Qinghai Lake, located in the northeastern part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, is the country’s largest inland saltwater lake with an area of 4,625.6 square km in 2021. It is an important ecological barrier in northern China and a key stopover site for migrant birds.

In recent years, the ecological environment has improved in the area, with biodiversity rapidly restored, according to Gao.

The lake is home to over 571,000 water birds of nearly 100 species, making it a major breeding ground for migratory birds in the country, statistics from the administration show.  ■

Outstanding Universal Value

The following describes the World Heritage Values of Qinghai Lake, as provided by the World Hertiage Committee’s Tentative List.

The Qinghai Lake is an inland saline wetland of international importance. It is the largest inland saline lake watershed, the huge water body and the surrounding water system has given birth to the vast and unique plateau inland wetland ecosystem, providing ideal habitat for many wild animals. Qinghai Lake is also an important water body for the ecological safety of the northeastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, a natural barrier to prevent the eastward expansion of the desertification in western China, a treasury of the richest biodiversity on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, a concentrated habitat and breeding ground of waterbirds, and the only habitat of an endangered animal, Przewalski’s gazelle (Procapra przewalskii). Qinghai Lake plays an irreplaceable role in enriching the biodiversity of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, adjusting the climate of northwestern China, preserving water source and maintaining ecological balance. The ecological environment of Qinghai Lake and its pattern of evolution reflect the trend of the overall ecosystem of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Qinghai Lake has become a precious study site for bird migration pattern, and for plateau food chain, ecological environment and biodiversity, providing an important gene pool for plateau organisms with great value for scientific research.

Spatial Integrity

The area of nominated property is 4952 km2, located at the northeastern corner of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, in the eastern part of Qinghai Province. As a closed inland basin surrounded by mountains, the region is adjacent to Datong Mountain on the north, Riyue Mountain on the east, Qinghai Nanshan Mountain on the south and Xiangpi Mountain on the west. The nominated property is located completely inside Qinghai Lake National Park, while the boundary of the nominated property coincides with that of Qinghai Lake National Nature Reserve. The nominated property include the core area, buffer zone and experimental area.

The nominated property includes all types of habitat with enough area essential for different life stages of the large mammals endemic to this region. It also includes all the habitat types for endemic and endangered species, showing a continuous spectrum of alpine meadow-alpine grassland-alpine steppe-alpine desert.

The boundary of the nominated property is clear, where a National Nature Reserve has already been established. The integrity of the vegetation types and habitats have been taken into account when delimiting the boundary, and an explicit buffer zone boundary has been set. Within the boundary of the nominated property, the priority is to preserve the integrity of natural geomorphology and ecosystem, and to prohibit the human activities with negative effects on the value of the nominated site. In the buffer zone, the content and manner of human activity are strictly limited by the protection regulations.

Integrity of landscape

The nominated property lies in the southern edge of Qilian orogenic belt, between the southern Qilian geosyncline and the Nanshan geosyncline in Qinghai. It is a rift basin generated by the late Himalaya neotectonic movement, mainly under the influence of three fracture structures in NWW, NNW and near SN directions. The major part of the nominated property, the Qinghai Lake, was formed about 210,000 years ago to be a neotectonic rift lake, which in even earlier ages, 200,000,000 years ago, was part of the Tethys Ocean. During the early stage of lake formation, Qinghai Lake was an exorheic freshwater lake connected with the ancient Yellow River. Later on, as the Qinghai Lake region experienced an uplift due to the drastic uplift of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau during the Quaternary Period, the rising Riyue Mountain blocked the drainage of Daotang River to Yellow River, and Daotang River drained westward into Qinghai Lake instead. Meanwhile, the mineral sediment at the bottom of the lake was continuously eroded and dissolved into the water, further increasing the salinity to form a saline lake. As a crucial part of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the geological evolution of the rift basin, Qinghai Lake, somehow recorded the geological history of the tectonic movements of the whole Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.

The general topography of the nominated property inclines from west to southeast, with the mean altitude of 3848 m. The highest point is Kanggarxolug in the western Datong Mountain on the north of the lake, with the altitude 5291 m. The lowest point is the surface of Qinghai Lake, with the altitude 3193.3 m. The highly diverse geomorphic types in the region mainly include lakeside plains, alluvial plains, low mountains, mid-mountains, high mountains, ice plateaus and contemporary glaciers. In the northern and eastern parts of the region, massive aeolian accumulation has led to the development of sandy land, mobile dunes, semi-fixed dunes and fixed dunes. Swamps are distributed in the low-lying land beside the lake. In the western and northern parts of the lake develop river floodplains, deltas and river accumulation terraces. By the riverside distribute sand bar terrace. In the area where foothills alternate with plains there are alluvial fans, and the landscape is dominated by the lake, lakeside and mountains.

Integrity of Protected Area

The Qinghai Lake National Nature Reserve was first founded in 1975. In 1976 the Bird Island Administration was set, and in 1984 the Qinghai Lake Nature Reserve Administration in Bird Island was established. In 1992 the nature reserve was listed in the list of Wetland of International Importance according to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Comvention). In December 1997, the State Council approved the promotion to National Nature Reserve, and in July 7th 1998, Qinghai Lake Nature Reserve Administration of Qinghai Province was renamed as “Qinghai Lake National Nature Reserve Administration, Qinghai”. In 2007, a structural reform took place, and the Administration was merged with the Qinghai Lake Scenic Area Protection and Utilization Administration. Since then, the Qinghai Lake National Nature Reserve Administration has been in charge of the natural resources and environment in the area west of Huanhu East Road, south of Qinghai-Tibetan Railway, east of Huanhu West Road and south of 109 State Road, especially focused on the birds in the Bird Island, Quanwan, Shadao, Sankuaishi, Haixin Shan, and the lake inlets of Daotang River and Buha River. The Administration now includes 17 staff. The subordinate departments are General Office, Scientific Research and Conservation Department, Information and Outreach Department, Forest Police Station. Besides, 5 Protection Stations are established in Bird Island, Quanwan, Heimahe, Hudong and Ganzihe.

Over the years, the Reserve Administration has paid great effort in conservation, scientific research, eco-tourism and community co-management, accomplishing significant achievements. First, through increasing the law enforcement and applying both on-board and on-land patrols, the conservation and management of the wildlife has improved, especially for the rare and endangered animal Przewalksii’s gazelle, Category I protected species black-necked crane, Category II protected species whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) and Przewalksii’s naked carp. Second, the influence of the Nature Reserve has expanded, the investment has increased to strengthen scientific research and conservation, as well as the monitoring of the fragile plateau lake wetland ecosystem of Qinghai Lake and surrounding wetlands, facilitating the sustainable development of the reserve. Now the reserve has become a basement for scientific research and education, and a major advertisement for Qinghao Province.

Comparison with other similar properties

Qinghai Lake is located at the northeastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the largest, highest and youngest plateau in the world. Here two biogeographic provinces meet each other: the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and the western Mongolian Plateau. The Przewalski’s gazelle that lives around Qinghai Lake used to be distributed in a wider region from Ordos, Inner Mongolia to Qinghai Lake, but due to increasing human activity, now it is only seen in around Qinghai Lake, not in any other area. Meanwhile, around Qinghai Lake also live mammals endemic to the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau such as the Tibetan gazelle (Procapra picticaudata). The transition of large mammal communities in the Qinghai Lake region is unique within the whole Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. The Przewalksii’s naked carp is also only found in Qinghai Lake, its large population and the waterbird community nourished by the migrating fish are also characteristic of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the breeding bird community being the largest among those maintained by the lakes on this plateau. Qinghai Lake is also the type locality of black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis), a crane species endemic to the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. The facts above justify the uniqueness of Qinghai Lake in terms of biological communities and ecosystems. Here only the comparison in terms of landscape is done with other lake areas in the World Heritage List and among the nominated properties.

Hoh Xil Tibetan Antelope Sanctuaries of Qinghai, nominated for World Natural Heritage, is also located at the northeastern edge of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Plateau lakes constitute an important part of the landscape of Hoh Xil. Lakes in Hoh Xil vary from dry salt lake to newly-formed freshwater lake, with various water properties, sizes and lake succession stages. However, the areas of these lakes are far smaller than Qinghai Lake. On the other hand, Qinghai Lake has always been in a relatively stable, closed basin in the past 210,000 years, showing no substantial change in shape and nature despite some fluctuations in size.

The Lake Baikal and Uvs Lake basins are both located where the southern edge of Siberia meet the Mongolian Plateau. Lake Baikal is the deepest freshwater lake in the world with the largest volume of water. Surrounding the lake are temperate grassland and coniferous forest; in the lake live many bizarre, characteristic species originated in the Arctic Ocean including seals and sharks. On the other hand, Uvs Lake is the largest lake on the Mongolian Plateau, surrounded by the best maintained grassland in Mongolia. Fertő/Neusiedlersee Cultural Landscape is located at the border of Austria and Hungary, in the Danube River watershed. As the largest plain lake area in Europe, it has been a converging zone of various cultures during eight thousand years, and its unique landscape is the result of the gradual evolution under the interaction between human behaviours and natural environment. Plitvice Lakes National Park is consisted of 16 natural lakes and their surrounding area, located in the vallies of the mountain range in western Croatia. The lakes are grouped into upper lakes on the dolomite mountains and lower lakes in a limestone valley. The lake group surrounded by mountains and forests and linked by rivers has always been a place of attraction in Europe. The water body and landscape are similar to the Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historical Interest Area in China. The four lake-type World Heritage sites on the Eurasia Continent are significantly different from Qinghai Lake in terms of landscape and biology.

The Willandra Lakes Region in the Murray River watershed in the southwestern part of New South Wales, Australia is consisted of a series of lake basins formed in the early Tertiary Period, which are mostly dried nowadays. In the contemporary scene, Willanora-Billabong River flows into the river basin region, forming six main lake regions and ponds of various sizes. The dried lakefront and sedimentary layers in this region preserved a great amount of large marsupial fossils, as well as traces of human activities dating back to 40,000 years ago, which make it the most suitable region for studying ancient human history in the Australian Continent.

In short, the particular geographical position of Qinghai Lake has led to the particular evolutionary history, topographical landscape and ecosystem, unique in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and even in the world


Xinhua, 2022-06-07.

UNESCO World Heritage Committee,

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