Poyang Lake
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Poyang Lake, East China, China

Also known as: Boyang, Po Yang Hu, Poyanghu

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Map: Poyang Lake, East China, China

Poyang Lake is China's largest freshwater lake-also known as one of China's five Great Lakes. This massive shallow lake is located in Jiangxi Province, in the east region of the country. Long revered and the source of life and income for many in the region, Poyang Lake has changed radically in recent years, and not for the better. The lake has always been seasonal, growing and shrinking according to rainfall and water entering from its five main tributary streams and the Yangtze River. Several years of prolonged drought and the diversion of water caused by the new Three Gorges Dam have deprived Poyang Lake of much of the water that fills it each spring and summer. From a maximum of about 1,087,264 acres the lake has, since 2012, reduced in size to around 49,421 acres. Both locals and international researchers are attempting to get the lake back to its average wet season size of 864,869 acres.

Poyang Lake's unusual life-cycle first began to occur during the Han Dynasty. Previously, the Yangtze River followed a more northern course, and the area now covered by Poyang Lake was a plain along the Gan River. The Yangtze River changed course around 400 AD, causing the Gan River to back up and flood the Pengli Marsh and eventually the former plain. The resulting lake flooded Haihun County and Poyang County, forcing the local people to migrate to Wucheng Township. During the Tang Dynasty, Poyang Lake covered more than 14,826,320 acres at its largest. During the winter months, the lake shrinks to an average of about 247,105 acres as a series of marshes and small lakes connected by a network of waterways. During the summer months, the many small villages atop area hills become islands. For many years, the lake was both a transportation waterway and a source of fishing.

The seasonal water fluctuations have provided critical habitat for several species of bird life of international concern for many hundreds of years. Ninety-five percent of the world's critically-endangered Siberian Cranes, most of the endangered Oriental storks, and several species of cranes and geese depend on the wetlands of Poyang Lake to over-winter. The lake is also home to the jiangzhu finless porpoise, called the river pig locally. Nearly half of the world's finless porpoises live in Poyang Lake, with most of the rest found in the Yangtze River. The porpoise population is dropping by about 7% a year, due to several factors, one of which is suspected to be sand dredging.

In an effort to earn a living, local residents have taken up sand dredging to produce income, which muddies the waters and disrupts many forms of wildlife. Because the unique ecology at Poyang Lake is so important, 5900 acres was designated a RAMSAR site. RAMSAR International has called attention to the dire situation at Poyang Lake, prompting visiting scientists and local government officials to attempt to find solutions to the growing problem. Jiangxi Normal University and Central Michigan University's Institute for Great Lakes Research are cooperating to study impacts to the area's environment. Increasingly, the Chinese government appears to be concerned about the environmental damage the Three Gorges Dam may be causing, and it is hoped operational policies may be altered to mitigate such damage.

Several solutions to the shrinking lake have been proposed, including building a dam to prevent the lake from draining to the Yangtze through its usual channel. Researchers aren't sure that would work as predicted. In the meantime, Mother Nature appears to have provided at least a temporary solution: heavy rains in 2015 and 2016 have gone a long way toward refilling the lake to the point that the main highway across the lake used by tour buses has recently been flooded. Recent efforts to increase tourism at Poyang Lake have resulted in optimism that more employment will be the result. Bird watching and nature observation are becoming increasingly popular, with tours arriving from Nanchang on the Gan River and other places in the region. Poyang Lake National Wetland Park attracts many visitors along Dahuchi water highway for fishing and nature observation.

Poyang Lake also has made the news for reports of unusual shipwrecks and anomalies which have occurred throughout history and to the present day. Strange ship sinkings and loss of life have given Poyang Lake the reputation of "Bermuda Triangle of the East". According to popular media, over 200 boats sank in one section of the lake from 1960 to the late 1980s, with over 1600 people missing and 30 survivors who became mentally ill. Although the stories related are no doubt embellished to some extent, the waters near Laoye Temple near the northeastern shore seem to be particularly dangerous-highly unusual for a lake with an average depth of less than 28 feet deep. Known as the Laoye Temple waters, this area appears to suffer from sudden weather phenomena and rapidly-shifting sand bars. Whirlpools created by shifting sandbars has been suggested as a possible explanation for the many shipwrecks. However, nothing has been found to account for the sudden disappearance of entire ships and the fact that no wreckage is ever found. Even divers who have attempted to research the area have met the same fate.

There is little information available about local lodgings. Most visitors stay in Nanchang, a beautiful city noted for cultural sites and famed Nanchang cuisine. One must-see location in Nanchang is Tengwang Pavilion, dedicated to the arts and letters of China's most famous persons. Frescoes, bas-relief, steles, plaques, poetry adorning columns, musical instruments, serial bells, and other sacrificial and ritual articles provide a cultural history by immersion. The Nanchang August 1st Uprising Museum marks the location where the 1927 Peoples Liberation Army was formed, leading to the Peoples Republic of China. Also most interesting is the Nanchang Bayi Square, the second-largest in China after Tienanmen Square, a popular gathering place for kite flying. Nearby are Lushan National Park, Mt. Jinggang and Dragon and Tiger Mountain.

Nanchang holds a variety of lodgings, including the usual western-style hotels, local guest stays, and less regulated home stays. Those unsure of either the language or the local customs may wish to arrange travel and accommodations through a travel agent familiar with the local area. And don't forget to arrange for the tour of Poyang Lake.

* Statistics for Poyang Lake are highly variable. Those listed are the most commonly quoted.

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