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Yellow Sea

About Yellow Sea

The Yellow Sea is that semi-enclosed body of water bounded by the Chinese mainland to the west, the ROK Peninsula to the east, and a line running from the north bank of the mouth of the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang) to the south side of Cheju Island. It covers an area of about 400,000 km2 and measures about 1,000 km (length) by 700 km (maximum width). The floor of the Yellow Sea is a geologically unique, post-glacially submerged, and shallow portion of the continental shelf. The seafloor has an average depth of 44 m, a maximum depth of about 100m, and slopes gently from the Chinese continent and more rapidly from the ROK Peninsula to a north-south trending seafloor valley with its axis close to the ROK Peninsula. This axis represents the path of the meandering Yellow River (Huang He) when it flowed across the exposed shelf during lowered sea level and emptied sediments into the Okinawa Trough. The Sea annually receives more than 1.6 billion tons of sediments, mostly from the Yellow River (Huang He) and Yangtze River, which have formed large deltas.

The Yellow Sea is connected to the East China Sea in the south, forming a linked circulation system. Major rivers discharging directly into the Yellow Sea include the Han, Yangtze, Datung, Yalu, Guang, and Sheyang. The Liao He, Hai He, and Yellow River around the Bo Hai have important effects on salinity in the western Yellow Sea, whereas the Yangtze River exerts strong influence on the hydrography of the southernmost part of the Sea. Recent reductions in Yellow River flow have led to changes in hydrography and water circulation, thereby leading to ecosystem changes. All rivers have peak runoff in summer and minimum discharge in winter.

Ecosystem in stress

Among the 63 large marine ecosystems (LMEs) in the world ocean, the Yellow Sea LME has been one of the most significantly affected by human development. Today the Yellow Sea faces serious environmental problems, many of a transboundary nature, that arise from anthropogenic causes.

Very large population live in the basins that drain into the Yellow Sea. Large cities near the sea having tens of millions of inhabitants include Qingdao, Tianjin, Dalian, Shanghai, Seoul/Inchon, and Pyongyang-Nampo. People of these large, urban areas are dependent on the Yellow Sea as a source of marine resources for human nutrition, economic development, recreation, and tourism. The Yellow Sea receives industrial and agricultural wastes from these activities. The Yellow Sea LME is an important global resource. This international waterbody supports substantial populations of fish, invertebrates, marine mammals, and seabirds. Many of these resources are threatened by both land and sea-based sources of pollution and loss of biomass, biodiversity, and habitat resulting from extensive economic development in the coastal zone, and by the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. Significant changes to the structure of the fisheries has resulted from non-sustainable fisheries, reducing catch-per-unit effort.

The Yellow Sea is one of the most intensively exploited areas in the world. The number of species commercially harvested is about 100 including cephalopods and crustacea. The abundance of most species is relatively small, and only 23 species exceed 10,000 MT in annual catch. These are the commercially important species and account for 40 to 60 percent of the annual catch. Demersal species used to be the major component of the resources and accounted for 65 to 90 percent of annual total catch. The resource populations of demersal species such as small yellow croaker, hairtail, large yellow croaker, flatfish, and cod declined in bio-mass by more than 40 percent when fishing effort increased threefold from the early 1960s to the early 1980s.

A fisheries recovery plan is essential to the continuation of the exploitation of this important resource. The three littoral countries, with their massive populations living in the Yellow Sea drainage basin, share common problems with pollution abatement and control from municipal and industrial sites in the Yellow Sea basin, as well as contributions from non-point source contaminants from agricultural practices. All of the littoral countries are urgently seeking to address problems of reduced fish catch and shifts in species biomass and biodiversity (caused in part by overfishing), red tide outbreaks, degradation of coastal habitats (caused by explosive coastal development), and effects of climate variability on the Yellow Sea Large Marine Ecosystem.

From Yellow Sea Large Marine Ecosystem Preliminary Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (February 2000) for the Global Environment Facility-United Nations Development Programme Project Development Facility (PDF-B).

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