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UPDATED: February 13, 2012 NO. 7 FEBRUARY 16, 2012
Not So Paradise Islands
Unregulated land reclamation threatens China's marine environment
By Li Li

PLEASURE ISLAND: Luxury hotels under construction on the manmade Phoenix Island in Sanya, Hainan Province (CFP)

Longkou, a coastal city located in the northwest of the Shandong Peninsula and on the southern bank of Bohai Bay, is embarking on an ambitious expansion plan.

A chain of seven artificial islands with a total area of more than 35.2 square km, almost two thirds the size of New York's Manhattan Island, are being created by filling the ocean with tons of earth and stones quarried from a nearby hill.

The sea in the area that is currently being reclaimed averages 7 meters in depth. The entire operation will require a 440-million-cubic-meter landfill and the total estimated cost of the project stands at around 20 billion yuan ($3.17 billion).

According to the city's blueprints, when completed in 2014, the islands will be zoned into different areas for residential buildings, tourist resorts, companies' headquarters, offices and industrial parks. By 2020 it is estimated that businesses with 100,000 employees and a combined revenue of 300 billion yuan ($47.56 billion) will operate on the reclaimed land, which will also become home to 200,000 residents.

As one of the fastest-growing city-level economies in Shandong Province, Longkou's development hit a bottleneck, as city planners could not find any new land for local companies' expansion projects. The new space provided by the reclaimed islands will equal 210 times the total construction land approved by the local government in 2009.

Massive development

The colossal landfill project reshaping Longkou's sea-front view is just one among dozens of reclamation projects initiated by China's coastal cities. In the provinces and municipalities of the Bohai Economic Rim, including Liaoning, Shandong and Tianjin, developing coastal areas and reclaiming land to serve as a base for industrial expansion have become an integral part of local authorities' growth strategies.

Tianjin Port, the largest port in north China, which handled a record of 450 million tons of cargo and 11.5 million TEUs of containers in 2011, was built almost entirely on reclaimed land.

The area of the port has expanded from almost nothing to a total of 107 square km in less than a century, and the expansion continues. A 30-square-km artificial island is already under construction and a second 45-square-km island is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.

Other coastal provinces are also pursuing large-scale reclamation projects. Dongguan in south China's Guangdong Province plans to invest 8.6 billion yuan ($1.36 billion) to reclaim 4,461 hectares of land from the sea, while Shantou City, also in Guangdong, is implementing an urban development plan that involves reclaiming 24 square km of land.

While land reclamation is seen as an effective means of creating space for urban and industrial growth, the pace and scale of current reclamation projects are worrying environmental authorities and environmentalists.

The State Oceanic Administration (SOA) granted permission for the northeastern coastal province of Liaoning to reclaim 30 square km of land from the sea in 2011. But the six coastal cities in the province drafted plans to reclaim a total of over 1,000 square km.

"This new round of sea-bound development is unprecedented in terms of scale. I think the land reclamation is too aggressive and fast," said Liu Hongbin, a professor at the Ocean University of China (OUC), based in Qingdao, a port city in Shandong Province.

According to a joint survey on land reclamation conducted by the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Land and Resources in July 2010, all China's coastal provinces, without exception, were engaged in unauthorized land reclamation projects.

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