12 Apr 2023

Working for sustainability at Damen Yichang Shipyard

In focus: ✔ Damen Yichang Shipyard ✔ Damen Shipyards Gorinchem ✔ United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 ✔ Reintroduction of the Yangtze sturgeon

Damen Yichang Shipyard – doing its part to revive the Chinese Sturgeon

Damen Yichang Shipyard (DYS) is a joint venture between Damen Shipyards Gorinchem and Yichang Shipyard and has been operating for 25 years. It specialises in building combi-freighter cargo vessels from 8,000 to 15,000 dwt for the export market and delivers between nine and twelve vessels each year.

The yard is located 1,000 kilometres inland on the River Yangtze, the third longest river in the world and one renowned for its biodiversity. However climate change together with industrialization is putting great pressure on its ecosystem. The famous Yangtze River dolphin is thought to be extinct and other species are critically endangered. One of these is the Yangtze sturgeon, a fish that grows up to 2.5 metres in length. Officially extinct in the wild, it is now being reintroduced into the river at part of the Yangtze River Protection and Ecological Restoration Program financed by the World Bank.

As part of Damen’s commitment to stewardship, DYS is taking an active role in the program by contributing to the reintroduction of the Yangtze sturgeon as part of the Damen Shipyards Group’s commitment to actively support the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14. This is to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources, and Damen’s specific aim is to minimize the impact of our vessels on life below the water surface.

A threatened icon

The Chinese sturgeon, also known as the "Giant Panda in the water" is a migratory fish, swimming from downstream of the Jinsha River to above Chongqing to spawn during the breeding season before returning downstream. However the building of the Gezhou Dam in Yichang has prevented the sturgeons from reaching their breeding ground, leading to a steep drop in numbers. However, some of the remaining fish have taken to gathering below the Gezhou Dam to create the only known stable spawning area in a four kilometre section of the river, exactly where DYS is located.

Taking action

Mindful of the impact that shipbuilding activities can have on the survival of the Chinese sturgeon, the management of DYS decided that participating in the Yangtze River Ecological Protection Initiative should be a priority. As a result, a number of actions have been taken that will make a meaningful contribution to the rebuilding of the sturgeon population.

Making a difference

These include:

  • Vessels are no longer launched in the months of November, December and January. These are the peak months for sturgeon spawning.

  • The outfitting jetty has been removed. The construction activity previously interfered with the sturgeon spawning areas.

  • Where previously untreated domestic wastewater was discharged directly into the river, a new sewage treatment facility has been built in the yard. Now, domestic sewage is treated onsite before being discharged into the municipal sewerage network. This facility is continuously monitored to ensure that it operates at peak efficiency at all times.

  • A rainwater collection pond has been built to collect initial rainwater runoff. This then passes through three levels of filtration to remove dirt and other matter before being discharged into the municipal pipe network so as to avoid direct discharge into the Yangtze River.

  • The yard cooperates with Yangtze River ecological protection experts, supporting their work on tracking and monitoring the spawning and breeding activities of the sturgeon.

These actions all reflect Damen’s stated aim to be a leader in maritime sustainability, and the yard is going one significant step further. By the end of 2024, Damen Yichang Shipyard will relocate to a new location, leaving the Chinese Sturgeon to spawn in peace and enabling future generations to coexist with these iconic fish.

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