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Authorities crack down on pollution off China's Florida

By CUI JIA/ZHENG JINRAN/WU YIYAO | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-11 07:58
GOOGLE EARTH/SCREENSHOT
Satellite images of Ocean Flower Island in 2013 (above) and 2017 released by news website The Paper.

Lifeline and goldmine

Wang Lu, chairman of Jincheng Consultancy, a real estate information provider in Haikou, Hainan's capital, said blame should be apportioned equally.

"People often say the property developers have kidnapped local governments. Well, maybe they lured the authorities with the promise of gains, but the governments made the final decisions, so both parties must be held responsible for what has happened in Hainan," he said.

"The environment is Hainan's lifeline and goldmine. The government should really recognize that rather than simply paying lip-service. The inspection has been a wakeup call for the property developers and the local governments. I believe they will be very cautious from now on after learning how serious the central government is when it comes to environmental protection."

Zhang Guiren, senior manager of the Shunxin Property Agency in Qionghai, a city in the eastern part of Hainan, hopes the inspection will help the island's property market to return to rational levels.

"Hainan needs more affordable housing projects for local people rather than luxury homes for tourists and speculators," Zhang said.

"The island's housing market has experienced volatility in the past decade as a result of speculation, and the market for luxury homes on the coast is mainly driven by speculators."

On a positive note, Chen, of the oceanography institute, said he has witnessed a sea change in official and public attitudes toward environmental protection in the past five years.

"If the developer of Sanya's Phoenix Island, the first phase of which opened 18 years ago, proposed building a large artificial island with hotels and a cruise liner port on the coral reefs now, the project would not be approved," he said.

"People would definitely report activities that damage the environment to the higher authorities, who can't afford to turn a blind eye anymore," he added.

Construction of Phoenix Island affected the currents, resulting in sand being washed from beaches on the west side of Sanya Bay, and the local government had to spend a lot to restore them by bringing in sand from outside.

Meanwhile, development of the second phase of the island was halted temporarily after the inspection team discovered it was larger than planned and would feature residential properties, even though the original proposal only referred to construction of a new port.

"Following the inspection, the hotels were ordered to lay pipelines to direct cooking fumes away from the sea. Now every speck of pollution is a big deal," said a property manager on Phoenix Island, who would only give his surname as Li.

Chen and his team from the oceanography institute have been planting coral around Phoenix Island since 2011. The largest section has grown from the size of a fingernail to a height of 70 centimeters.

"Coral is the rainforest of the sea. It is crucial for sustaining marine life. It is easy for humans to harm the environment, but we are also capable of helping it to recover," he said.

He urged the Sanya government to give more thought about how to deal with illegal constructions such as the Sea Pavilion Restaurant rather than simply demolishing them, because demolition may damage the environment a second time.

In the wake of the inspection, the Sanya government asked Chen to draft a plan to restore the coral reefs, and he will introduce 840,000 coral polyps by the end of the year.

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