Caixin
Jan 03, 2018 06:06 AM
ENVIRONMENT

China Halts Commercial Construction Spree in Sea

A land reclamation project in Wanning, Hainan province, was initiated in 2015 without regional environmental and maritime authority approval. Central government inspectors arrived late last year and halted it. Photo: Visual China
A land reclamation project in Wanning, Hainan province, was initiated in 2015 without regional environmental and maritime authority approval. Central government inspectors arrived late last year and halted it. Photo: Visual China

China won’t approve new commercial land-reclamation projects in 2018, amid rising concerns that such projects have led to severe damage of the marine ecosystem.

The State Oceanic Administration said it would in principle stop approving general reclamation projects in 2018, except for major projects approved by the State Council. Public infrastructure, public service and national defense projects will continue to be allowed, the state-run Legal Daily reported Tuesday.

Public alarm has shot up over land reclamation, which local authorities have embraced for higher tax revenue, economic growth and better livelihoods for local residents.

Coastal provinces are home to most of China’s population. Land reclamation gives local authorities a way to create comparatively cheap space for development. Reclaimed land usually costs between 140,000 ($21,048) yuan to 300,000 yuan per mu (15 mu are in one hectare). Regular land plots in or near urban centers can sell at auctions for millions of yuan per mu.

The amount of land created from China’s coastal wetlands and sea has grown rapidly. Since 2006, 13,000 hectares of land (32,123 acres) have been reclaimed on average each year, swallowing up beaches, islands and wetlands.

Excessive reclamation and lax supervision have endangered coastal habitats in China. For instance, mangroves – saltwater marshes that are unique to tropical and subtropical areas – have shrunk from 42,000 hectares in the 1950s to 14,600 hectares in 2013, according to a 2016 paper in the Journal of Ecology and Environmental Sciences. Environmentalists say land reclamation is the main cause of their disappearance.

Amid public complaints, the State Oceanic Administration in August and November dispatched teams to inspect land reclamation practices in 11 coastal provinces and cities. At a news conference on Dec. 28, Liu Changgen, deputy director of the national environmental inspection office under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, criticized eastern China’s Shandong province and the southern island province Hainan for environmental damage tied to land reclamation.

Since 2013, Shandong issued 512 land reclamation permits without necessary approval from the central government’s environmental and oceanic authority, the inspection team found. Since 2015, the eastern province of Zhejiang has violated rules in the development of 44 land reclamation projects, according to the inspection team.

Earlier in December, a central government environmental inspection team criticized Hainan for approving land reclamation projects for property development that damaged coral reef and marine life.

In November, regulators ordered a halt to construction of a 100 billion yuan airport on an artificial island off the coast of Sanya in Hainan, citing environmental concerns.

Contact reporter Han Wei (weihan@caixin.com)

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