In the lower reaches, from Zhengzhou in Henan to its mouth, a distance of 786 km, the river is confined to a levee-lined course as it flows north-east across the North China Plain before emptying into the Bohai Sea.The Yellow River has the highest concentration of sediment in its waters in the world.

It is not uncommon to see the riverbed rise above the waters in the delta region. Rising sandbanks can ironically cause floods by displacing water over the levees. Regular dredging helps to maintain the course of the river and prevent flooding.

A door hangs loose from an aviary at the Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve, Dongying, Shandong. 2018

The Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve was set up in 1992 to protect the largest wetland ecosystem in northern China. Located near the mouth of the river, the reserve covers an area of 153,000 hectares. The eco-region functions as a refuelling stop for migratory birds along the Siberian-Australasian flyway. Beyond the nature reserve, there are no protection measures in place to mitigate threats to species and habitats.

Oil Derricks (Pump Jacks) and a fish farm, Dongying, Shandong, 2018.

Since the development of the Shengli Oilfields over 50 years ago, oil and gas wells can be found scattered all over the Yellow River Delta. The proximity of this type of heavy industry to food production is a potential hazard for contaminating food supplies and groundwater.

People walking beneath a wind turbine beside the Bohai Sea, Dongying, Shandong, 2018.

China surpassed the United States to become the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2007. If that trajectory continues, it will double US emission levels within the next few years. However, rather than another giant increase in coal consumption data show that China’s annual coal consumption declined by 2.9% for the first time in 15 years government with an accompanying 1% fall in carbon dioxide emissions.

In 2015 China became world’s largest producer of photovoltaic power and it also led the world in the production and use of wind power and smart grid technologies, generating almost as much water, wind, and solar energy as all of France and Germany’s power plants combined.

A petrochemicals plant rises behind two commercial buildings near a farming village, Dongying, Shandong, 2018.

China’s growth in the chemicals industry has been extremely rapid in the last 15 years. In 2013, its share of the global chemicals market reached 33% following an annual growth rate of 23% in the period from 2005 to 2013.

People fishing in an area of urban wetlands near the Yellow River, Binzhou, Shandong, 2018.

Binzhou lies on the alluvial plain formed by the Yellow River. The entire length of countryside around the river, from Pucheng Subdistrict to the Bay of Bohai, has been created by deposition of sediment since the Qin Dynasty. The name, Binzhou, arose under the Five Dynasties period, an era of political upheaval in 10th-century China, because its land then bordered the Bay of Bohai. The deposition of silt from the Yellow River, which assumed its present course after the disastrous floods of the 1850s, has since moved the city well inland.

A new coastal road passes through an area of wetlands, Dongying, Shandong, 2018.

Once a small village in the middle of the countryside surrounded by wetlands, Dongying today is a sprawling city that continues to show signs of rapid expansion as a result of its booming petrochemical industry. In the last 15 years China has grown from being a major importer to being a major producer of a wide array of petrochemicals. The city was established in 1983, as a base for developing the Yellow River Delta and China’s second largest oilfield, Shengli Oil Field.

In 2009 the government approved a development plan that placed an emphasis on being eco-friendly. This involved building industrial bases around its port that included an eco-tourism area, an eco-agricultural area and a high-end manufacturing area. In 2013, the State Forestry Administration reported that more than 3.3 million hectares of wetlands throughout China have since disappeared. This represents a 10 % drop since the first national survey in 2003, even though technically more wetlands are protected by regulations today.

An abandoned construction site in an area of wetlands, Dongying, Shandong, 2018.

Behind the abandoned site is a new residential development that is occupied but Dongying has areas of so-called ‘ghost cities’ where overbuilding has left empty and abandoned building projects in the oil boom town.