Two years after establishing Sansha City which comprises a group of barren islands in the South China Sea, the Chinese government is working to make the island cluster more habitable for humans and wildlife.


The second stage of a greening project for Sansha in south China's Hainan Province was officially announced on Friday, highlighting efforts to make the islands, home to about 1,000 fishermen, more environmentally friendly.


According to the investment plan, 18 million yuan (about 2.92 million U.S. dollars) will be used to build desalination systems and grow trees on Xishazhou Island in the hope of turning the island into a new oasis.


Greening the islands


To better manage its territories, China officially established Sansha City in 2012 to administer the island groups of Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha, as well as their surrounding waters in the South China Sea.


Ye Xingbin, who sought shelter with a few other fishermen on Sansha's Yagong Island during a storm in 2000, found the environment extremely unfriendly at the time. The 9,800-square-meter island is made of coral rock and had no water or soil and barely any wildlife.


"There was no greenery except for some weeds," Ye said. Ye shipped trees from Hainan Island and tried to plant them on Yagong, but none of the trees survived due to high temperatures and lack of water.


Tree-planting efforts by the government following Sansha's founding have revitalized Ye's early greening efforts.


Coconut and casuarina trees, which prove to be more tolerant to salt, heat, and wind, have been planted on the bare islands that make up Sansha City. Soil, fresh water and fertilizers were transported from Hainan Island to aid the tree growth, said Sansha mayor Xiao Jie.


During the greening project's first stage between 2012 and 2013, more than 3,500 trees were planted on the islands of Zhaoshu, Yagong, Lingyangjiao, Yinyu and Jinqin, official data showed.


Thanks to careful management, the trees have had a high survival rate, with coconut trees reaching 98 percent, according to Xiao.


"There is not only the blue ocean and sea shells, but also green trees now, which have added to the views of the Xisha islands," said Zhan Dafeng, a fisherman who made his home on Zhaoshu Island a decade ago.


The greenery has improved living conditions, helped block the wind and prevent the erosion of the coast. It has also wooed seabirds and turtles, according to Zhan.


Sansha is aiming to develop its tourism sector into one of the city's pillar industries. Cruises around the islands launched last year, but only on a small scale due to transportation difficulties and the harsh environment.


To help maintain marine biodiversity and preserve fishery resources, the city has also carried out a program to introduce marine life, such as sea turtles, small fish and sea snails.


Eco-friendly infrastructure


Sansha's residents mostly dwell in the Xisha islands. Since Sansha City was established, more than 60 companies have registered business there, covering finance, logistics, entertainment, agriculture and fishery.


Yongxing Island, the seat of government and biggest island in Sansha, has now taken the shape of a city. It has an airport, a hospital, sea ports, roads, delivery outlets, restaurants and banks. A primary school broke ground on Yongxing early this year and is expected to be completed next year.


However, infrastructure on other islands is poor, and more is needed to make Sansha both livable and eco-friendly. A number of projects are being completed to aid residents and minimize their environmental impact.


Feng Wenhai, vice mayor of Sansha, said that a waste-water treatment plant with daily capacity of 1,800 tonnes and a waste collection plant that can process 20 tonnes of garbage each day, both on Yongxing Island, will be put into use by October this year to address urban waste pollution.


Garbage on smaller islands will be shipped to Yongxing for treatment after completion of a garbage transport ship by the end of the year.


A desalinator capable of processing 1,000 cubic meters of seawater a day is under construction to ensure supplies of fresh water. The project aims to stop exploitation of underground water on Yongxing by 2015.


Yongxing relies mainly on gasoline and solar power for electricity, and photovoltaic equipment has been installed on many of the smaller islands.


A dynamic maritime monitoring system is also being developed. An environmental protection station was set up on Ganquan Island in February, and similar stations will be built on other islands, said Shi Guoning, head of Sansha's land resources and environmental protection department.


A draft plan for Sansha's ecological protection was completed early this year. Xiao said that implementation of the plan will help more of Sansha City's islands become sea oases.




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