We estimate that China's natural wetlands are disappearing even faster than feared (Nature 471, 19; 2011). Stricter measures are needed to protect what is left of this valuable ecosystem against the increasing demand for land and development.

Using Landsat Thematic Mapper imagery to map China's wetlands (see, for example, Nature 458, 134; 2009), we found that 33% were lost between 1978 and 2008. Some 55% of these were natural inland marshes, many of which are biodiversity hotspots. Land reclamation accounted for more than 70% of the total loss.

The Tibetan plateau generated about 6,000 square kilometres of new wetlands between 1990 and 2008 through deglaciation and thawing of permafrost, reducing wetland losses from 66% between 1978 and 1990 to just 6% in 2000–08. Matters are also improving as a result of the Chinese government's substantial efforts in creating new protection areas and initiating wetland restoration projects.

However, more effort is needed to arrest this loss altogether. This should be directed at providing operational support for continuous monitoring of critical wetlands, integrating wetland protection into watershed management plans and specific legislation for wetland protection.