Author: Tiffany Luehrs

Program: Hangzhou Study Center – China


Last week I had biology class in the middle of a wetland. In the biology course, my classmates and I had just completed a couple chapters from  When a Billion Chinese Jump by Jonathan Watts about the loss of habitats and biodiversity China has been experiencing. We wanted to see evidence of successful conservation of nature by visiting the Xixi Wetland. Throughout civilization, wetlands have served and continue to serve as a source of life as they provide water, natural resources, transportation, and regulate the climate.


The creation of the Xixi Wetland can be dated back to 5,000 years ago  when the wetland began to expand and develop. During 1912-1949 and the following periods of intense industrialization, the wetland shrunk. Today though, the conservation project led by Hangzhou’s government has improved the quality of the wetland, and currently, 70% of the wetland is water area.

The wetland was especially wet the day my Valpo cohort and I visited as rain poured from the overcast clouds above. What surprised me about the wetland  is how it is strangely situated within the bustling city of Hangzhou. Walking through the wetland, I noticed how muddled the sound was of the busy traffic and horns blaring just outside the entrance. It was hard to believe we were still in the urban heart of Hangzhou when we could barely hear the noises of the city and were surrounded by so much greenery. The rain lightened upon our arrival at a structure built especially for bird watching.

leuhrs-fall2016-9We sat, elbows propped up on the wooden tables and peered through our binoculars in the search of wild grebes diving below the water’s surface, swallows flying overhead, Chinese bulbuls in the reeds, spotted doves in the trees, and a beautiful grey heron perched on a wooden rod sticking out of the water. I never thought I would have my first bird watching experience in Hangzhou, but I would highly recommend a visit to the Xixi wetlands. And bring a pair of binoculars!