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Plans for man-made island lead to worries

(China Daily)

16:04, August 26, 2011

FUZHOU - Residents of a coastal city in East China are worried that nearby parts of the ocean will be harmed by the construction of an artificial island that is to be a luxurious retreat for overseas Chinese merchants.

The proposed artificial island, to be 450,000 square meters in size, is to be built in Tong'an Bay in Xiamen, a city in Fujian province.

The island is to contain a conference center, a yacht club, a nursing home, a memorial hall and other places for recreation.

The government of Xiamen's Xiang'an district and the Gold Phoenix Group, a Hebei-based real estate company, plan to work together on the project, according to local authorities.

The proposed island has become the subject of much public criticism since the plans for it were first reported. One cause for concern is that the place where the artificial island is to be built lies within a nature preserve that protects a rare fish called the lancelet.

A regulation released in 1992 designated the sea around Tong'an Bay's Crocodile Islet as an official haven for lancelets, and the city forbade the construction of buildings there.

That changed in 2000, though, when a new lancelet-protection plan made the area around the islet into a peripheral protection zone.

Even so, the waters there are still treated the same as they were before the adoption of the new plan, according to an official from the Xiamen oceans and fisheries bureau who declined to give his name.

Li Xinzheng, a researcher with the Institute of Oceanology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said there are no specific rules governing how peripheral protection areas can be developed.

"Environmental assessments should be conducted to see if those zones are suitable places for construction projects," he said.

In fact, such an assessment is to be carried out by the State Oceanic Administration's third institute of oceanography, which was entrusted with that task by the developer of the island project.

"We started the assessment in early August, and it will take at least two to three months to complete it," said a staff member in charge of the assessment, who declined to give his full name. "We will release the results when it's finished."

Li Mengyun, a Xiang'an resident, said she is afraid the island will pollute the ocean and obstruct scenery in the bay.

A local fisherman is meanwhile worried the island will cause fish to change their migration routes, making his work difficult.

"Any artificial construction in the sea will certainly affect the environment, change the direction of waves and even lead to an imbalance in the ecosystem and an extinction of species," said Li Xinzheng. "So a comprehensive and precise assessment should be conducted before anything is built."

Li said an assessment of the environment should be conducted to ascertain how the proposed artificial island would affect the bay in all four seasons of the year. That would take at least a year to complete, he said.

"Policymakers should bear in mind that it is not wise to pursue economic growth with no regard to environmental pollution."

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