The ninth session of the Standing Committee of the 11th NPC opens in Beijing, China, June 22, 2009. (Photo by Wang Xinqing)
Top legislature Monday began to discuss a draft law intended to step up conservation and environmental protection of offshore islands.
The draft, submitted to the ninth session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC) for its first reading, proposes that national and local governments should make overall plans to guide the protection and the development of inhabited and uninhabited islands.
The plans should give details on the establishment of oceanic nature reserves and special protection zones on and around islands, as well as guidelines for utilization of uninhabited islands.
"The law draft is aimed to promote protection of island eco-systems, a rational utilization of natural resources and sustainable development of local communities," said Wang Guangtao, chairman of the NPC's committee for environmental and resources protection.
He told the NPC Standing Committee that the law was urgently needed, since the environment of many islands had been seriously damaged by unregulated human activities.
State and local governments had issued dozens of regulations covering the use and protection of offshore islands, but these rules were neither comprehensive nor strong enough, Wang said.
More than 6,900 islands larger than 500 square meters each and more than 10,000 isles below that size are scattered throughout China's 3-million-sq-km sea area.
A lack of planning and regulation, overpopulation, misuse of natural resources and pollution had caused severe damage to the fragile eco-systems of many islands, Wang said.
Some officially uninhabited islands were actually being occupied and used without authorization, and some had vanished as separate bodies of land as the sea that linked these islands to the mainland was filled in, he said.
In the past decade, the north coastal province of Hebei had lost 60 islands, 46 percent of its total. The southern province of Hainan, itself a large island, lost 51 small islands, 22 percent of its total.
The draft law stipulated that all uninhibited islands are state-owned, which means individuals, businesses and local governments will be banned from using or leasing the islands without authorization.
This would help avert situations such as those in Shandong and Zhejiang provinces, where some islands were sold by local authorities to businesses for tourism development or mining activities, Wang said.
All construction projects that are contradictory to conservation purposes will be banned on islands and in the surrounding water, and vegetation and indigenous species will be strictly protected, according to the draft.
Activities that damage coral, coral reefs and mangroves, which are vital to coastal eco-systems, will be prohibited.
Other banned activities include erecting buildings on the beach, filling in the sea to connect islands with the continent, and dumping liquid and solid wastes without treatment.
Violators will be ordered to demolish illegal buildings and could face fines as high as 500,000 yuan (73,100 U.S. dollars).
All development projects on inhabited islands will be subject to strict environmental impact assessments. Construction and tourism activities on uninhabited islands will be prohibited unless they are officially approved.
The draft law also said a special fund should be established to support the conservation and repair of island eco-systems, as well as scientific research on the islands.
Island residents will be helped to improve their living environment, to have better public services, and to use more renewable energy sources such as wind, wave and solar energy.
The State Oceanic Administration and its branches would be responsible for inspecting island protection work, according to the draft.