SIX uninhabited islands in Hainan Province in southern China are to be developed as tourist sites this year.

Zhao Zhongshe, head of the Department of Ocean and Fisheries of Hainan Province, stressed that there would be no real estate development on the islands.

A census in the 1980s found that China had more than 6,500 uninhabited islands, or 93.8 percent of the total number of islands.

From 2003 to 2005, a frenzy of development swept China’s islands, but was later halted by central government over conservation concerns.

On March 1 last year China promulgated the "Law on Island Protection," which allows for the development of uninhabited islands with the approval of provincial governments or the State Council.

However, such development has stirred controversy among those concerned about the difficulty of protecting the islands.

Duan Deyu, deputy director of the Ocean and Fisheries Bureau of the tourist city of Sanya in Hainan Province, said divers destroyed and stole the coral, and tourists spoiled the vegetation.

"We had inspections, but it was hard to control since there are so many tourists," Duan said.

Geng Xiangkui, a professor with the Zhejiang Ocean University, said any development plans should be carefully drafted. "More attention should be paid to the preservation of wild animals and plants," he said.

Duan said a Sanya-based volunteer group called Blue Ribbon had carried out clean-up activities on the uninhabited islands in the past.

"Hopefully more volunteers could be included in the island protection efforts," he said.

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