Rapid reclamation and degradation of Suaeda salsa saltmarsh along coastal China's northern Yellow Sea.
Suaeda salsa saltmarshes are an important coastal wetland habitat of China's northern Yellow Sea, which plays a critical role in sequestering carbon (blue carbon), protecting shorelines, maintaining biodiversity, and has substantial economic value (e.g., ecotourism). However, the area of S. salsa has been rapidly declining due to several different threats from reclamation and invasive species that impact its natural succession. Here, we map the changes in the distribution of the S. salsa saltmarshes along the northern Yellow Sea of China (NYSC) at 5-year intervals by applying the supervised maximum likelihood method to analyze Landsat images from 1988 to 2018 and investigate the potential impact of three important factors on habitat change by analyzing the temporal changes in S. salsa saltmarshes with other land covers. S. salsa saltmarsh areas have decreased by 63% (264 km2 ha to 99 km2), and the average loss of S. salsa saltmarshes was 5.5 km2/year along the NYSC over the past three decades. There have been many dramatic declines in the two main distribution areas of S. salsa saltmarshes with a 77% loss of habitat area in Liaodong Bay (from 112 km2 to 26 km2) and a 52% loss in the Yellow River Delta wetland-Guangli-Zhima estuarine wetland (from 137 km2 to 65 km2). Land reclamation is the most important impact factor in the loss of S. salsa saltmarshes, while there have been limited effects of natural succession and smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) invasion. In light of the important ecological services and economic value of the S. salsa habitat, emergency conservation actions (e.g., habitat restoration, strictly supervision) are needed to limit the rapid habitat loss, which should include the immediate cessation of extensive land reclamation along the NYSC.