Hainan Island has one of the densest rainfalls in China. It is hot and moist all year round.
Although just an island, it has about one-tenth as much coastline as the mainland - about 1,528 kilometres. Dotted around this coast are 68 ports and bays, including 24 main fishing ports, and 78,000 square nautical miles of fishing ground.
The Baimajing fishing harbour is a key fishing area in the south, and is one of the five most important fishing bases in China. Its warm climate and rich baits in the surrounding waters attract and nurture fish, prawns, shellfish and seaweeds. There are 600 types of aquatic products to be harvested. More than 40 are highly valuable.
The hele crab is a speciality of the island, and is essential on a table arranged for guests. The prawns are quite big-eight to a kilogramme. There is a type of prawn which takes off its shell at midnight. If it is caught before its new shell grows, it is very delicious and is convenient for cooking. One metre long, the pipeapple ginseng is the biggest member of the sea cucumber family. It is unique to southern Hainan.
Hainan Island has a great potential for even more aquatic production. A total fishing ground of about 25,666 hectares is available for cultivating more than 20 varieties of fish, prawns, shellfish and seaweeds.
The island is also a key producer of Chinese unicorn, a precious alga growing in the tropical sea. Chinese unicorn is the main raw material of agar, which is used to solidify canned foods, to make quality candy, ice cream and cold drinks for the summer. Agar is also used in research as a germ medium and in medicine as a laxative or something to treat high blood pressure. It is used widely in the textile, printing and dyeing, photo production and cosmetics industries. China has a long history of cultivating and utilizing Chinese unicorn.
Cultivating pearl oysters in the sea is now becoming popular around Hainan Island. A kind of shellfish are being used to cultivate the most precious pearls in the world. Aquatic farmers are also scientifically cultivating and processing sea horses, coral and hawksbill turtles.
Unfortunately, marine aquiculture in Hainan is far from fully developed. Only a little more than 1,333 hectares of water surface, or 5 per cent of the total that can be utilized, have been brought under cultivation. The annual output accounts for less than I per cent of the island's total catch of sea products. And most of the products are still being bred on an experimental basis. There is an urgent need to import advanced technology to tap the island's marine resources.
Apart from large tracts of virgin forest, Hainan Island abounds in tropical crops. The most abundant is coconuts, which are a major source of income for the islanders. Coconut trees have been planted there for 2,500 years, and today these leafy palms wave over 14,666 hectares of land, yielding more than 30 million coconuts annually.
Coconuts are not only valuable for their sweet meats. Coconut shell carvings, for example, were treasured gifts to feudal emperors in ancient times. Today, artisans produce more than 200 designs, many of them inlaid with patterns of silver, tin, sandalwood or seashells. They are highly valued souvenirs and enjoy brisk sales in nearly 100 countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and those in Southeast Asia.
These coconut trees, which can withstand high wind and drought and grow luxuriantly at salty seasides. have yielded substantial economic returns to the people of Hainan. Although producing capacity is still low, the islanders netted 1.3 million yuan from processing 5 million pieces of coconuts, with a total output value of 5.37 million yuan last year. Of Hainan's 1983 tax payment of 380,000 yuan, 300,000 yuan came from processing coconuts.
If the 200.000 hectares of wasteland on Hainan were planted with coconut trees, the island's annual output of coconuts would top 900 million pieces. Given the present processing capacity, this would produce a total industrial output value of 1,800 million yuan.
Hainan is also rich in lemongrass, from which essence is extracted. Lemongrass can be harvested once every three months, six months after the seeds are sown. Because the grass yields quick returns, is easily attended and needs little money, its cultivation is regarded as an important way to get rich quickly.
The island's vast tracts of hilly land are ideal for planting pepper trees. The 5,533 hectares of plantations produce 1.3 million kilos of pepper annually, accounting for half of China's total each year. Per-hectare output is about 750 kilos, worth 12,000 yuan. This could be much higher if scientific techniques were introduced.
Betel nuts lead Hainan Island's trade with other parts of the country. Also called areca, betel nuts are a valuable medicine native to south China. At present, each betel tree yields an annual income of 120-150 yuan, higher than a coconut tree. One islander earned 12,000 yuan by selling the products of a betel tree plantation covering just a seventh of a hectare. This single example shows that planting betel trees can be a lucrative undertaking.
Tropical crops. which also include sugarcane, sisal hemp. coffee, cocoa and tea, constitute the mainstay of Hainan's economy. They cover about 306,000 hectares on the island, and there are another 666,000 hectares that can be used.
The Shilu Mine, in the western part of Hainan, is China's largest open-cast iron mine. Its ore has a 70 per cent iron content. A railway line links the mine to the seaside in the west, where the mineral is automatically loaded and shipped to steel plants else-where.
Verified reserves of the diamond-shaped ore are 300 million tons. The annual output will be raised from 4 million tons this year to 4.6 million tons by 1985. At that rate, it will take more than two decades to reduce the mine to the sea level, and even then there will still be about 100 million tons remaining.
Shilu's iron is laced with rich deposits of copper and cobalt. Its verified cobalt deposits stand at 13,000 tons, which, with a cobalt content of 0.196 per cent, make the mine China's largest and richest. Cobalt is an indispensable raw material for making special steel and alloys needed in the manufacture of missiles, airplanes and tanks.
Of the 50-odd minerals discovered in Hainan, the reserves of 30, which include tin, crystal, gold. magnanese. chromium, titanium, uranium, zinc. phosphorus and limestone, are large enough to be tapped. For example, there are 700 million tons of titanium under the island's eastern coast. A new type of sapphire ore was also discovered in Hainan.
It is no exaggeration to say Hainan is a veritable treasure house, according to a deputy county head on the island. In Changjiang County, for example, there are iron, copper and cobalt mines, limestone and dolomite quarries, zinc ores and rich gold mines. The county attracted the attention of business people from Japan and other countries after it mapped out a plan to develop a special kind of granite, with hues and veins as beautiful as those of marble.
The high salt content of the water and the long periods of sunshine have nurtured a booming salt industry in Hainan. The Yinggehai saltern on the southern tip of western Hainan is the most famous. The salt content in the local seawater reaches 3.5 Baume degrees, and is topped only by the Red Sea. Construction of the saltern started in 1958, and by the late 1980s it will be larger than the city of Guangzhou, with an annual production capacity of 150,000 tons. Yinggehai is only one of nine salterns in Hainan, and there are still 3,000 hectares that can be developed for this industry.
Most encouraging, perhaps, are the large deposits of lignite (brown coal) and oil shale believed to be rare in south China, which have been discovered on Hainan. Both. will add fuel to the island's economic growth.
The Yinggehai and the Beibu Gulf Oilfields, the largest in the South China Sea, are both located in the sea territory of Hainan. The island itself is rich in oil as well. Eleven of the more than 30 wells drilled by the end of last year have shown indications of oil and gas. Six oil wells are now producing regularly. The development of the land and offshore oil industry augurs well for the future development of China's "treasure island."
(To be continued)