Community based co-management of mangrove forest in Dongzhaigang National Nature Reserve, Hainan province, China

Subdivisions of Hainan (China)

Hainan Dongzhaigang Mangrove Nature Reserve, also as wetland type nature reserve, is the first established and largest mangrove reserve in China. The reserve is located in the northeastern area of Dongzhaigang of Qiongshan district, Hainan, belonging to a tropical monsoon climate. Mangroves are salt-tolerant trees, which are also known as "forest above the sea", growing on marshes along the coast and riverbanks. This mangrove habitat has enormous ecological, social and economic value due to its rich biodiversity and abundant resources (fish, crabs, oysters and shrimps) for people's livelihoods. The establishment of this nature reserve has made important contributions to the restoration of mangrove wetland, biodiversity conservation, stimulation of local tourism and economic development, as well as disaster prevention and mitigation. In recent decades, people have gradually recognized the importance of local communities for forest management. Community based co-management and the support of relevant policies are the main reasons for the remarkable achievements after the creation of Dongzhaigang National Nature Reserve (NNR).

Hainan province

Hainan Island has a maritime tropical monsoon climate. It is located on the northern edge of the tropics and accounts for 40% of China's tropical land area[1]. Hainan nature conservation has great opportunities since it has rich biodiversity. Hainan now has 35 species of mangrove in 26 genus out of 18 families, accounting for about 50% of the world's mangrove species[2]. However, there are also challenges existing such as soil erosion, land degradation, and water resource capacity declining. Most areas of important and ecologically sensitive areas are unprotected. There is still a lack of effective information and data on biodiversity resources and their threat status in nature reserves[2].   

Ethnic Groups in Hainan

Han and Li are the main ethnic groups in Hainan. There are two main ethnic minorities, the Li (800,000) and Miao (50,000), who mainly live in the mountain areas of Hainan[3]. The Li minority is the main ethnic group among the ethnic minorities in Hainan Province, accounting for 91.4% of the minority population in the province[2]. Besides, Hainan province has the only Li ethnic group in China, and its ancestral life can be traced back to the Neolithic Age [8]. Li was gradually pushed southwards into the rainforest-covered mountains. Eventually, the Han controlled the entire periphery of the island and the "steep terrain, thick forest, wild animals, and tropical diseases" kept them away from the Li in the interior[4]. The illiteracy rate of young Li people is over 50%, and the illiteracy rate of Li people over 40 years old is over 90%. In the past, there is even prejudice saying that the Li is still considered to be lazy, dirty, violent, alcoholic, incompetent and incompetent in learning and business"[4].

Location of Study Area

Dongzhaigang NNR

Dongzhaigang National Nature Reserve is currently the largest and best natural environmental protection mangrove nature reserve in China[5]. The Nature Reserve is adjacent to 12 villages belonging to Yanfeng Township, Yanhai Township, Sanjiang Township and the Sanjiang State Farm, and the total population size is 21,774 in 4,122 households in these municipalities[6]. The local average annual income of approximately RMB 2,240 per capita and is supported through agriculture and fisheries activities. Besides, every village has good transportation and electricity supply[6]. The biodiversity of different communities in Dongzhaigang NNR not only reflects the complexity and stability of the community itself, but also reflects the ecological or environmental quality of its habitat[5]. Typical tree species in Dongzhaigang National Nature Reserve was S. apetala, which was introduced from Bengal. Compared with other tree species, the S. apetala plantation has strong cold resistance and fast growth rate[5].

Mangrove Ecosystem

Mangroves are swamps and woody plant communities that are intertidal between tropical and subtropical coastlines. They have special sea and land features that provide a “natural barrier” to the coast[7]. Mangrove forests have important ecological and socio-economic implications and provide extensive support, supply, regulation and cultural ecosystem services[1]. They play an irreplaceable role in maintaining biodiversity, protecting coastal environments, strengthening dikes, preventing winds, protecting shores, providing medicinal plants and building materials, attracting tourists, purifying coastal waters, and can protect farmland and villages from natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis[1][7]. The mangroves on the island are widely distributed and rich in species[1]. Mangroves are also indicators of global environmental and climate change[7]. Efforts towards their conservation, protection, and sustainable management and restoration are central to the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[1].

mangrove roots

Mangroves are fragile ecosystems that are threatened by various forces[1]. The world’s mangroves are decreasing at an alarming rate, losing 36% between 1995 and 2005, which may be faster than inland forests and tropical rainforests, and many existing mangroves are degraded[7]. Despite the government's efforts to protect them, significant changes have taken place in recent years due to the impact of human activities, natural disturbances and rapid economic development[1][7].

The problem of fragmentation of tropical forest and wildlife habitats is getting worse, and many mangroves have been transformed into aquaculture and cultivated land because of the rapid development of the social economy and the coastal economy[2][7]. There is unsustainable use of wetlands, mainly for fishery production; and there is poor hydrological management[8]. Invasive species also threaten the persistence of mangroves. For instance, Spartina alterniflora is one of the most successful invasive species in mangrove wetlands. It has been distributed to all mangrove wetlands in the coastal areas of China[9]. Human behavior also causes serious pollution, increasing the spread of disease and the harm of pests. This includes the use of pesticides and contamination from animal waste[9]. In the future, sea level rise caused by climate change may also be the greatest threat to mangrove ecosystems[7][8].

Overall, China has experienced three stages of mangrove land reform[9]:

(1) the transition to agricultural areas in the 1960s and 1970s

(2) the development of mangrove aquaculture in the 1980s

(3) Development to achieve near-term urbanization through ports, terminals and commercial areas

1. Before 1970

Hainan government emphasized efficiency and income over nature preservation. Provincial Forestry Bureau encourages environmentally damaging practices, including replacing coastal mangroves with shrimp farms, replacing natural forests with plantations, and allowing excessive logging[4].

2. 1978: Economic Reforms

The Chinese economy has shifted from a central planning or a "command" system to an efficiency-oriented model[4].

During the 1970-1980, primary and secondary forests were largely replaced by plantations of eucalyptus, teak, banana, pineapple and fruit[10].

3. 1980: Establishment of Dongzhaigang Nature Reserve

In order to protect the mangrove resources of Dongzhaigang, the People's Government officially established the Dongzhaigang Nature Reserve on January 3, 1980[6].

Household Responsibility System   

4. 1984: Household Responsibility System

Uncertainty in property rights has led many farmers to cut down all harvestable trees on their contracted land shortly after this new system, fearing that the government will change its policy again [6].

5. 1986: Recognized as National Level

It was designated as a national level (National Nature Reserve status) by the State Council in July 1986[6].

6. 1988: Separation of Hainan from Guangdong province and the creation of Hainan as a Special Economic Zone

The provincial government has now adopted policies and strategies for economic and environmental sustainability. The Bureau now emphasizes ecological management objectives, including reforestation, greening and environmental protection. There are introduced programs such as Natural Forest Protection and Land Conversion Programs and introduced “engineering projects” to control water and soil erosion and desertification[10].

7. 1992: China Ratified the Ramsar Convention

China ratified the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (The Ramsar Convention) in 1992, and recognized the international importance of mangrove and intertidal ecosystems in the Dongzhaigang NNR, nominating the area as one of its first six Ramsar sites[6]. Besides, Dongzhaigang NNR was also listed in the International List of Important Wetlands[11].

8. 1993: Natural Forest Logging Ban

The Hainan provincial government banned all natural forest logging in order to protect endangered animals and plants and prevent further damage. It believed that the disappearance of rain forests led to soil erosion, water shortage and loss of biodiversity[6].

9. 2001: Gun Seizures and Hunting Bans

There are monitoring activities including gun seizures on Hainan, and hunting bans in nature reserves. In nature reserves, one source of conflict between the government and the locals is illegal hunting, and despite the government’s attempts to eliminate it, illegal hunting continues[6].

There is intensive land use by local communities. The inter-tidal sand- and mudflats are intensively used by local communities for the collection of shellfish, fish and other marine and estuary resources[6]. In other parts of the estuary, permanent fishing nets are densely arranged. While in areas where oysters are not fished or farmed in this way, a large number of locals gather together at low tide, using the sand flats and mudflats that emerge from the surface after the ebb tide. Crabs and some shellfish are widely collected throughout the mangroves[6].

Cows in Hainan, China

Local communities have to extract resources for their livelihoods, regardless of obeying the government's instructions. Local activities such as hunting, cutting trees for firewood, growing crops, collecting mushrooms and medicinal plants on the mountains can’t be prohibited completely. And they will also use their land for business by planting various types of economic crops for food and pasturing of cattle and sheep[4].

As part of local target communities or project partners, local residents including indigenous and ethnic minorities should fully be involved in the process of determining the new PA boundaries as well as the rights and responsibilities of the resident communities over resources within the PAs[3]. After establishing local working groups, different stakeholder groups can play a leading role according to their respective tasks. Women and minorities will have fair representation in on-site stakeholder committees and groups related to community co-management, awareness activities and alternative livelihoods. At the same time, establishing local or specialist working groups such as legal review team, database and monitoring team, PA system strategy and action plan development team as well as community involvement team[3]. Different stakeholder groups can help to facilitate the active participation of affected stakeholders (institutions, organizations and individuals) in the implementation of the respective project activities[3].

Land Tenure

According to official documents, the total area of the Dongzhaigang NNR managed by the Qiongshan County Government is 3337.6 hectares[6].The reserve land is owned by the state[6]. Reserve Administration (Hainan Forestry Bureau) has clear land tenure and the right to manage and use the land. The Dongzhaigang National Nature Reserve is managed by the Hainan Forestry Bureau, but the decision is made at the local county government[6].

Local Rights

Local communities are traditionally not involved in protected area decision making and planning[6]. However, the local community can exercise “traditional rights” for the development of resources within the NNR, and those rights were recognized by legislation[6]. The exploitation of inter-tidal shellfish and fish can still be carried out throughout the protected area, and there is no difference in the pressure of use between the “core area” and the “utilization area”. Besides, there may be localized hunting of birds and other wildlife in and around the protected area.

In terms of buffer zone, which consists of intertidal mudflats around the core zone with a total area of 122 hectares, it will continue to be used as a shellfish production area and fishing area for local communities and continue to ban hunting and reclamation of outsiders[6]. While some other forest-related activities and resource exploitation activities will be allowed if they are consistent with the protection of natural ecosystems and biodiversity. The buffer zone will also be used for education and research activities for biodiversity monitoring[6].

Many places have a clear community or family “ownership” or rights to exclude others. For example, in many places the communities have demarcated large areas for oyster production by using wooden stakes inserted into the sediment as settling substrates for the oyster spat[6]. The exploitation of mangroves themselves such as cutting down trees or collecting feed is strictly prohibited, and local communities have a high degree of compliance. Local communities respect policies that prohibit the logging of mangroves in all regions[6].

Affected Stakeholders Main Relevant Objectives Power & Interest
Local Communities (around the project PAs)[8] - major resource users

- traditional managers of wetlands and forest ecosystems; have customary rights

- participants in co-management activities

- beneficiaries of livelihood support

Low Power, High Interest
Village Committee[12] - committee leaders have been elected by the villagers

- election based on religious or clan status

Low Power, High Interest
Interested Stakeholders Main Relevant Objectives[8] Power & Interest
Local County Government - city planning and management

- management of Dongzhaigang NNR

- application for international wetland city accreditation

High Power, Medium Interest
Hainan Provincial Government - responsible for the approval and release of the province's wetland planning, implementation plans, policies, resolutions, etc. High Power, Low Interest
Ecological Environment Research Center, Chinese Academy of Sciences - carry out comprehensive evaluation of economic value of mangrove ecosystem services

- research on mangrove land use

Medium Power, Low Interest
China Blue (NGO) - formulate guidelines for sustainable fisheries

- advocate for wetland-friendly fishery production and consumption

Medium Power, Low Interest
China Mangrove Conservation Network - elaborate Hainan mangrove guidebook (school textbook – “Home in Mangrove Forest”, “Village besides the Mangrove Forest awareness & education materials plan”)

- VI design for HMWPAN

- demonstrate public guided tour in wetlands

Low Power, Low Interest
Hainan Bird Watching Society - co-hosting public awareness activities (eg. the Bird Watching Festival, World Wetland Day)

- bird surveys in selected wetlands

Low Power, Low Interest
R&F Properties Group (Private Sector) - provide technical training, study tour, wetland management consultation for the company Low Power, Low Interest

According to the Hainan government, it has successfully passed laws requiring local participation in management[4]. It also believes that locals are now involved in the ban on logging, reporting illegally felled trees, helping to prevent forest fires and increasingly through “greening projects” to help environmental protection work[4]. Government officials and forestry workers gradually recognize that local people can play an important role in maintaining a healthy environment, and limited access to resources near nature reserves has plunged local communities that depend on forest resources into poverty. Besides, great biodiversity values have been conserved.

Land expropriation, and even community displacement, has become a painful but efficient way to force rural people to adapt quickly to new circumstances by taking advantage of compensation resources and opportunities[12]. However, the theory of sustainable forest management states that the use of forest resources by local communities is legal, after all, social considerations are especially important[4]. Therefore, the inclusion of local communities in forest-related decisions reduces tensions between local communities and forestry management, as well as ensures the sustainability of government forestry practices[4].

Challenges for Ecosystem

Some poor management strategies may cause the mangrove ecosystem to collapse. Take sphaeromadae as an example, with the discharge of a large amount of aquaculture sewage, sufficient nutrients were provided for the sphaeromadae. The natural enemy crabs have been drastically reduced due to the over-harvesting and their predators (ducks) were artificially raised, which eventually led to the massive reproduction of the sphaeromadae, and then lead to environmental damage[11].

Challenges for Local Communities

In the surrounding area, there were people invading mangrove areas in history, forming salt pans (many of which have recently been converted into fish ponds and shrimp ponds). Small-scale encroachment is still likely to occur in some areas near the estuary[6]. Besides, the indigenous peoples in Hainan are mainly distributed in mountainous areas and will not be affected, but there are some impacts near the coastal wetland reserve[3]. Increasing legal protection for existing PAs and mangrove replanting (habitat restoration) on occupied lands, the economic development of the local community is limited due to restrictions on land development and harvesting and fishing activities[3][6]. What's more, some resistance to local people's participation in decision-making may continue[4]. At present, their objections are likely to be ignored, because the farmers still have no channels to complain[4].

Co-management strategy can ensure equitable benefit sharing, build practices for sustainable livelihoods as well as sustain cultural practices that support environmental protection and restoration [3]. This can also increase related job opportunities for PA management such as participation in patrolling or replanting, and contributing nature-based tourism[3]. The report believes that it is necessary for rural residents to participate in tourism-related business activities to improve their situation, especially those living near tourist areas. Benefit sharing of tourism is an “improving through doing” process. Building a local village market to attract tourists to visit their village will have opportunities to earn money directly from tourists[12].

There is also economic benefit since economic diversification and community joint economy will increase economic income[6]. For example, caboclo land use in Brazil takes advantage of the terrain, using patterns of flooding and drainage as well as natural and anthropogenic openings in the canopy, with the result that the vegetation cover on a smallholding is patchy and represents many different stages of clearance and forest regeneration[6]. Dongzhaigang NNR can be similar to the situation in the Várzea Forests of Mazagão, the combination of extraction and cultivation constitutes a diverse family economy with different sources of income in different seasons, allowing for enhanced production or the introduction of new species and products to adapt to changing markets[13]. Besides, local communities are an important source of ecological knowledge and expertise. Incorporating the local people into forest management will not only improve the communities’ health, but also improve the forest health[4].


In terms of mangrove ecosystem protection, we need to the latest, complete and accurate information about the spatial distribution and dynamics of mangroves[1]. Accurate mangrove information is critical to determine the extent and distribution of mangroves, analyze landscape changes, determine the rate and cause of mangrove changes as well as assess the ecological health of mangroves[7]. Therefore, we need to improve high-technology and establish ecological monitoring network information system[11]. Investigating, monitoring and evaluating mangrove wetland resources by the use of geographic information system (GIS). Keep examining on mangrove distribution, community type, plant classification, birds, benthic animals and microorganisms. And strengthen the research on the unique ecological characteristics and ecological balance mechanism of mangrove wetland ecosystem[11]. In addition, enriched planting of mangroves could provide local communities with the benefits of improved ecological environment, thereby increasing the production of fish, crabs, oysters and shrimp[6].


In order to avoid or mitigate social impacts, project planning should take into account local people’s specific circumstances and seek to provide appropriate benefits. It also requires identifying existing land tenure, land use and potential social impacts; and negotiating fair and equitable solutions with due regard to the rights of individuals and communities[3].

At the same time, strengthen the publicity of community residents, help community residents establish the environmental awareness of protecting mangrove wetlands and birds[11]. And also help the construction of community such as create community unions or groups for better self-management. Encourage participating in decision making and planning process[12].  For example, we could imitate Amapá State to create community associations. When individual family members grow and harvest many products from their small farms, they formed their community associations to establish, monitor, and enforce rules to prevent overexploitation of resources and to organize processing and marketing of products, including wood[13].

Provide technical assistance can improve agricultural technology, educate and disseminate environmental protection and health knowledge as well as promote the sustainability of production[6]. Improve the quality of employees, strengthen training, increase their awareness of self-management can also contribute a lot[11]. Some activities such as hunting, fishing, planting crops and raising livestock are carried out by individuals and families, while others can be monitored and managed by community groups[13]. Forest managers should try to learn to use the power of “organized labor unions” to defend their interests in the broader state and federal political arena like Brazilians[13], thus achieving the transition from "price taker" to "price maker".


Encourage local ecotourism by bringing direct benefits to local communities, alleviating the pressure on the wetlands and promoting the development of the local economy[6]. Strengthen tourism infrastructure management and offshore environment monitoring[11]. Using Cage culture trials for marine resources (fish, shrimps, crabs and oysters) on extensive use zone, to increase income of local people and significantly reduce the pressure on the core area[6]. Besides, pay attention to the development of small-scale mangrove economic crops, because species with medicinal value and timber value will provide economic incentives for local communities.


Do more research on mangrove breeding technology[11]. Mangrove breeding and seedling cultivation, tissue culture technology and molecular biological technology need to be studied and analyzed actively. Study how to control and manage invasive species. And introducing efficient high technology for practical use[11].  Also, encourage local communities to participate in research, which requires the establishment of friendship and trust between the researchers and local people[12].


Protected area management authorities should work with local governments to issue fishing, intertidal resource collection and marine aquaculture licenses, and to collect appropriate management fees. Illegal fishing will be deterred and punished[6]. Take legal and economic measures to prohibit land reclamation, the construction of high-level shrimp ponds and the killing of birds[11]. Prohibit the use of motor vessels in the protected areas to reduce noise pollution and human impact[11]. Note the internal aspects of rural communities, such as improving the capacity, awareness and social networks of local people, as well as external factors such as preferential policies[12]. Besides, input local information into a top-down process, with external experts acting as a bridge between local communities and political decision makers; and emphasize measures to promote and strengthen the participation of rural communities in sharing the benefits of development[12].

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Liao, J., Zhen, J., & Li, Z. (2019). Understanding Dynamics of Mangrove Forest on Protected Areas of Hainan Island, China: 30 Years of Evidence from Remote Sensing. Sustainability, 11(19), 5356.   
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Ouyang, Z., Han, Y., Xiao, H., & Wang, X. (2001). Nature Reserve Network Planning of Hainan Province, China. Paris: UNESCO.   
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 CBPF-MSL. (2013). CBPF-MSL: Strengthening the Management Effectiveness of the Wetland Protected Area System in Hainan for Conservation of Globally Significant Biodiversity. People's Republic of China: United Nations Development Programme   
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 Davies, E., & Wismer, S. (2007). Sustainable Forestry and Local People: The Case of Hainan's Li Minority. Human Ecology, 35(4), 415-426.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Liao, Q., Li, J., & Zhang, J. (2009). An Ecological Analysis of Soil Sarcodina at Dongzhaigang Mangrove in Hainan Island, China. European Journal of Soil Biology, 45(3), 214–219.   
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 6.19 6.20 6.21 6.22 6.23 6.24 6.25 6.26 6.27 Chen, K., Chen, G., Huang, Z., & Howes, J. (1999). Management Plan of Dongzhaigang National Nature Reserve, Hainan, China. Hainan: Hainan Provincial Forestry Bureau.   
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Zhen, J., Liao, J., & Shen, G. (2018). Mapping Mangrove Forests of Dongzhaigang Nature Reserve in China Using Landsat 8 and Radarsat-2 Polarimetric SAR Data. Sensors(Basel, Switzerland), 18(11), 4012.   
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Raaymakers, S., & Wang, Y. (2018). Terminal Evaluation (TE) Report: UNDP-GEF China Hainan Wetlands Project. Hainan: China Biodiversity Partnership Framework-Mainstream of Life.   
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Romañach, S. S., DeAngelis, D. L., Koh, H. L., Li, Y., & Teh, S. (2018). Conservation and Restoration of Mangroves: Global Status, Perspectives, and Prognosis. Ocean and Coastal Management, 154, 72-82.   
  10. 10.0 10.1 Davies, E., & Wismer, S. (2007). Sustainable Forestry and Local People: The Case of Hainan's Li Minority. Human Ecology, 35(4), 415-426.
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 Liu, H., Gan, S., & Wang, D. (2015). The Analysis on Ecological Risk of Natural Disturbances of Dongzhaigang Mangrove Nature Reserve. Value Engineering, 12, 220-223   
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 Wang, Y. (2006). Rural Community Participation in Tourism Development: Cases from Hainan Province, China. University of Waterloo, Waterloo.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Menzies, N. (2007). The Várzea Forests of Mazagão, Amapá State, Brazil. In In Our Forest, Your Ecosystem, Their Timber: Communities, Conservation, and the State in Community-Based Forest Management (pp. 50-68). Columbia University Press.

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Jiaqi Li. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.

Post Image Credit: Jonathan Wilkins, Detail of mangrove roots, CC BY-SA 3.0