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UPDATED: January 9, 2010 NO. 2 JANUARY 14, 2010
Island Armor
A new law has been enacted to protect China's islands from destruction


PROTECTING MOTHER NATURE: Volunteers plant trees during an environmental protection campaign in May 2009 on Hujiang Island, a small island off the coast of China's southeastern Fujian Province (ZHENG SHUAI) 

After three rounds of deliberations that began in June 2009, the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee endorsed the Law of Sea Island Protection on December 26, 2009.

The law, which will take effect on March 1, 2010, will strengthen protection for the ecosystem and the rational use of natural resources and sustainable development on the country's sea islands. A draft of the legislation was made available for comment in June and July 2009.

China has more than 6,900 islands that each has an exposed area out of water larger than 500 square meters, according to Xinhua News Agency. The country also claims more than 10,000 smaller isles.

The new law also requires national and local governments to make plans to guide the protection and development of inhabited and uninhabited islands.

The national plan is to be tailored to the needs of a range of island types, natural resources and ecosystems, as well as the current status of protection efforts and use. The plan must also list all uninhabited islands that can be used and those whose ecosystems are in need of restoration.

All uninhabited islands are state-owned, which means individuals, businesses and local governments will be banned from using or leasing them without authorization.

The law bans the construction of coastal stone or sand quarries, all construction projects, forestry, scientific sample collection and tourism activities on uninhabited islands unless the activity is officially approved.

The new law entails more oversight on uninhabited islands than on inhabited ones, said Ni Yuefeng, an official with the Committee for Environmental and Resources Protection, which is under the NPC Standing Committee. The reason for this, Ni said, is that uninhabited islands are often located far from the mainland, have fragile ecosystems and lack fresh water.

"Only by stipulating state ownership over these islands can we protect them en masse," said Ni.

Activities that damage coral reefs and mangroves, which are vital to coastal ecosystems, are prohibited. Officials have also banned erecting buildings on the beach, filling in the sea to connect islands with the continent and dumping untreated liquid and solid wastes.

Violators will have their illegal incomes confiscated and could face fines up to 500,000 yuan ($73,100).

All development projects on inhabited islands are going to be subject to strict environmental impact assessments, and indigenous flora and fauna are to be protected, the law states.

The law also creates a special fund to support conserving and reclaiming island ecosystems, as well as to conduct scientific research.

Island residents are encouraged to use more renewable energy sources such as wind, wave and solar energy and environmentally friendly technologies, such as rainwater collection and use, seawater desalination and sewage treatment.

The State Oceanic Administration (SOA) and its branches have been made responsible for conservation and protection work, according to the law.

Long wait

Wang Guangtao, head of the Committee for Environmental and Resources Protection, told the NPC Standing Committee in June 2009 when the first draft was submitted that the law was urgently needed, since many islands had been seriously damaged by unregulated human activities.

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