Aksu prefecture in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is witnessing an increasing number of people venturing out to enjoy the scenic beauty of spring as the temperature gets warmer.
The area is home to a national wetland park where water birds can be spotted taking off from rivers and lakes, and the urban landscape has been enlivened by green corridors and rivers that cross the prefecture.
It’s hard to imagine that this prefecture, which sits on the northwest edge of the Taklamakan Desert, the world’s second-largest shifting sand desert and is located in the geographic center of southern Xinjiang, was once plagued by sandstorms some 30 years ago.
The region’s ecosystem was extremely fragile and vulnerable.
In the 1980s, after a sandstorm, a bowl of rice on the table would be filled with sand even if the door and windows were closed. Kekeya, a major source of sandstorms for downtown Aksu and Wensu county, was swept by sandstorms three months each year, exacerbating the already precarious environmental conditions.
However, with concerted efforts by the local government, Aksu has made remarkable progress in transforming its environment. The city’s water conservation projects have increased the available water resources and helped curb the degradation of grassland and wetland ecosystems.
Additionally, the local government has adopted a variety of measures to promote afforestation, such as building windbreaks and planting drought-resistant trees, which have played an essential role in combating desertification.
Local authorities in Aksu began encouraging afforestation efforts in the Gobi Desert 37 years ago, which proved to be a challenging task. After millions of failures, they eventually succeeded in creating a “green miracle” in the desert and making significant progress in ecological treatment.
Since 2012, five large-scale ecological restoration and desertification control projects have been completed in Aksu prefecture, each covering an area of over one million mu (66,667 hectares).
These projects have been instrumental in promoting afforestation and restoring degraded ecosystems, which has helped to mitigate desertification and improve the local environment.
In 2021, the prefecture’s three-year holistic conservation and restoration project for mountains, rivers, forests, farmlands, lakes, grasslands, and deserts in important source regions of the Tarim River was launched. This project is one of the first batches implemented in China during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025).
The Tarim River is the largest basin in China, and it runs through most parts of the Tarim basin. It is the lifeline for Xinjiang’s economic development, ecology, and livelihood.
The Aksu River, which is the most important headstream in the upper stream of the Tarim River, plays a crucial role in maintaining the ecological security of the Tarim River and the wider Xinjiang region.
Therefore, restoring the ecology of the Aksu River is of paramount importance to safeguarding the ecological security of the Tarim River and Xinjiang at large.
This will require coordinated efforts from local authorities, communities, and other stakeholders to implement comprehensive conservation and restoration measures.
By working together, they can continue to build on the “green miracle” in the Gobi Desert and promote sustainable development for the region’s economy and ecology.
The Aksu River is an important body of water that passes through diverse types of landforms, including glaciers, snow-capped mountains, deserts, forests, grasslands, and farmland.
This river basin has been the focus of a three-year holistic conservation and restoration project. Unlike traditional models that target only one ecosystem, this project considers the interconnectedness of the various ecosystems in the region.
The project covers the entire Aksu River basin and includes 35 sub-projects, which are divided into five categories.
These categories include sand fixation, oasis ecology, water ecology restoration, grassland and forest ecological conservation, and building a community of life for both humans and nature.
This comprehensive approach is aimed at achieving sustainable development and conservation of the region’s ecosystems.
The sand fixation sub-project aims to stabilize the desert environment in the region, preventing desertification and improving the local ecosystem. The oasis ecology sub-project seeks to improve the quality of the oasis environment in the region, which is an important habitat for many species.
The water ecology restoration sub-project aims to restore the quality of the water in the Aksu River and its tributaries, which are important sources of water for the region.
The grassland and forest ecological conservation sub-project aims to protect the grassland and forest ecosystems in the region, which are important habitats for many species, including rare and endangered ones.
The holistic conservation and restoration project in the Aksu River basin is an important initiative that aims to protect and improve the region’s ecosystem and promote sustainable development.
The rock spire ecological restoration project implemented by Wensu County is one of the 35 sub-projects in the Aksu River basin restoration project.
The rock spires, which stretch 34.3 kilometers between downtown Aksu and Wensu County, are mountains weathered by wind and sand. Due to their unstable nature and lack of vegetation, these spires have negative impacts on the life of the local community.
To address this issue, the rock spire ecological restoration project aims to level these spires and build an ecological corridor on them. This will not only improve the ecological condition of the area but also align with a cultural tourism project in Wensu County, which will provide economic and social benefits to the community.
Since the implementation of the project, more deserted lands have been transformed into orchards, and wasted mine pits into farmland, while river banks have been converted into green leisure spaces.
According to an official from the Natural Resource Bureau of Aksu Prefecture, the ecological benefits of the rock spire ecological restoration project are beginning to show. As of the end of 2022, Aksu Prefecture had completed ecological conservation on 1,760 square kilometers of land, restored ecology on 9.9 square kilometers of mine pits, and repaired 363 kilometers of river banks.
Additionally, 10,538 hectares of land have been covered with vegetation, land consolidation of 18,000 hectares has been completed, and soil and water erosion on 238 hectares of land have been treated.
The rock spire ecological restoration project is an important step towards restoring the ecological balance of the region. It serves as an example of how ecosystem restoration can be used to provide economic and social benefits to the community.
The project has contributed to the transformation of deserted lands into productive farmland and green leisure spaces, while also preserving the unique cultural heritage of the region.
The ecological conservation and restoration project in the Aksu River basin, including the rock spire ecological restoration project, demonstrates the importance of a holistic approach to ecosystem restoration.
By considering the interconnectedness of different ecosystems and aligning restoration efforts with economic and social development goals, the project has been successful in promoting sustainable development in the region.
Today, Aksu has earned a reputation as a “green miracle” for the impressive ecological transformation it has undergone.
Its urban landscape is now more dynamic than ever before, and the area is experiencing a surge in tourism, with visitors flocking to see the stunning natural scenery that was once unimaginable in this region.