Hainan Island (18°10′–20o10′N and 108°37′-110°03′E) is the largest tropical island in China. It belongs to the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot and harbors large areas of tropical forests, particularly in the uplands. Both rubber and pulp plantations were considered as “forests” in the definition of the forests in China and FAO. But what's the introduction of these plantations' impact on local tropical forests in Hainan has not been examined.
Dr. Zhai Deli and her supervisor Chuck Cannon of Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) conducted a research to analyze the impact of rubber and pulp plantations on the distribution and area of tropical forest in Hainan, using remote sensing analysis of Landsat images from 1988, 1995 and 2005. They addressed the following questions: 1) where were the pulp plantations created, and what types of forest did they replace; 2) did pulp plantations have any impact on the distribution or expansion of rubber plantation; 3) were protected areas affected differently by rubber and pulp plantations from that of unprotected area; and 4) what major policies or factors might drive future change?.
The results found that both rubber and pulp plantations replace natural forests, including protected areas, but by different strategies, with rubber plantations displacing natural tropical forests at lower elevations on flat areas while pulp plantations displacing steep-sloping higher elevation natural forests. But rubber and pulp plantations displace different types of natural forest and do not replace one another. These two plantation types pose separate threats to natural forest in Hainan. Current China's “forests” definition and the overcapacity of Asia Pulp & Paper Co.Ltd (APP)-Hainan Jinahai mill may be the reason for the expansion of these two plantations. Moreover, the link of current Hainan Jinhai mill’s shortage of raw material to other countries’tropical rainforests in Southeast Asia and future Collective Forest Tenure Reform were also discussed which also brought uncertainty to local natural forest conservation.
The researchers thus proposed that plantation forests should be officially classified as industrial, not natural forest. It is also critically necessary for local government to improve their roles on monitoring, planning, regulation, and assessing of large-scale environmental associated projects, as well as natural forests conservation projects.
The study entitled “Rubber and pulp plantations represent a double threat to Hainan's natural tropical forests” has been published online in Journal of Environmental Management, 96 (2012):64-73, doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2011.10.011