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Coastal regions 'expand' into sea
By Xie Chuanjiao in Qingdao and Wang Ying in Beijing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-05-26 05:38

For a country that has one of the largest areas in the world - 9.6 million square kilometres - it would seem strange for China to expand seaward. But when it comes to building on coastal property, as Conrad Hilton, founder of the global hotel chain once famously observed, it's location, location, location.

China's booming coastal economies are reclaiming land from the sea at a frenetic pace with disastrous consequences to the coastlines and the fragile ecosystems they support.

Excessive sea filling poses a great threat to the environment, experts with the National Marine Data and Information Service Centre of the State Oceanic Administration say, because it damages the natural habitat of marine animals and plants, blocks estuaries and causes flooding in coastal areas.

"Marine plankton and fish types have been reduced dramatically in the past decade, and marine biological systems have been ruined in coastal areas where sea-filling projects are rampant, such as the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta and the Yellow River Delta," Lin Shaohua, director of the centre, said yesterday.

To put a halt to such wanton destruction and better protect the environment, an oceanic observation system using marine satellites will be set up as part of an ongoing national survey project. It is scheduled to be completed by 2009, Lin said.

Figures show there is good reason for concern about reclamation:

In the past decades, about half of mangrove swamps and 80 per cent of the coral reef have been damaged, the centre's statistics show.

The nation's beach areas have shrunk by half over the past five decades, especially in recent years.

Jiaozhou Bay, located on the Yellow Sea in East China's Shandong Province, has shrunk by 35 per cent - from 535 square kilometres in 1928 to the current 367 square kilometres - according to the National Oceanographic Bureau's Beihai Branch. And in 2002 alone, about 20 sea-filling projects were approved by the Qingdao government, filling up to 16 square kilometres from Jiaozhou Bay.

The reduction of the bay has led to a reduction in its tide-control capacity and a deteriorated environment. In the 1960s, more than 54 kinds of marine life populated the estuary; in the 1980s, only 17.

Large-scale sea filling is also taking place in southern Guangdong Province with many large enterprises, especially in the chemical and power industries, being set up in Beibuwan Bay.

Why, then, is this seaward surge taking place when there is so much property available inland?

"More and more projects have been started on land reclaimed from the sea to avoid hassles such as tearing down old housing, relocating residents and paying compensation for land acquisition," said Professor Hou Guoben of China Ocean University in Qingdao.

But one expert does not believe it's all gloom and doom and the matter has to be viewed in its proper perspective.

"Sea filling and land reclamation have been important oceanic engineering activities over time, as well as a key means of utilizing living and production space in the ocean," Sun Shuxian, director of the sea areas management department of the National Oceanographic Bureau, said in an interview with the Xinhua News Agency.

The central government and the coastal provinces have set strict standards to control sea filling and land reclamation.

Xin Rongmin, an official with the Shandong Marine and Fishery Department, said that projects have to be approved by the provincial or central government, and must fully and scientifically demonstrate that they meet the guidelines on oceanic planning and national industrial policies.

(China Daily 05/26/2005 page1)

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