Island infrastructure drive set to make waves

Updated: 2015-08-06 07:39

By Xu Wei and Huang Yiming(China Daily)

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Island infrastructure drive set to make waves
Some relocated residents on Yongxing Island have opened a center offering leisure facilities and fresh seafood in their new community. Guo Cheng / Xinhua

Poor communications

The transportation of cargo and personnel between Sansha and the outside world relies on the newly built Sansha 1, a car and passenger ferry that makes the round trip to Haikou, the capital of Hainan, once a week. In calm weather, the voyage takes about 10 hours, but heavy swells and strong winds can often extend the journey time or confine the boat to port.

"The area of ocean near Xisha is frequently battered by strong winds that cause high tides, and the ship's operations frequently have to be suspended during adverse weather conditions," Xiao said.

In an attempt to improve communications and transportation, the authorities in Sansha are planning to launch regular flights to and from Yongxing Island, so the local freight airport is being expanded and upgraded to accommodate passenger aircraft, according to Xiao. He added that the city is also searching for opportunities offered by the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative that has been proposed by the Chinese government.

"The hundreds of islets in Sansha can serve as platforms to provide services for trade and the maritime industries," he said.

Chen, the construction manager, said all the islets should be opened to the public and market forces should play a greater role in the allocation of resources. Even though their limited resources mean the islets are unable to receive a large number of visitors, people who are willing to pay the high price to travel to them should be allowed to visit whenever they want, he said.

A second home

Ancient records show that fishermen from Hainan first explored the waters around Yongxing Island during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), after Admiral Zheng He plotted the location. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), a fleet of ships was sent to survey the area and erected a stele on one of the islands, firmly establishing them as a frontier for Chinese fishermen.

Chen Zefa lives with his father and younger brother in a poorly furnished wooden shack on Zhaoshu Island, which is part of the Xisha Island group. The men are part of a 200-strong contingent of fishermen from Tanmen, a township in Qionghai, Hainan, who live on the island for long periods every year, using it as a base for catching grouper and collecting marine produce such as oysters and large sea slugs.

Life on the island, about 2 nautical miles from Yongxing Island, has changed drastically in the three years since Sansha was founded. "At least tap water is available now, so we can take a bath after each fishing trip," he said.

The 33-year-old fisherman sees the island as his second home because he lives there for about seven months of every year. Most of the fishermen on the island can dive to a depth of 4 to 5 meters without equipment, he said, adding, "We were born to be fishermen, and we survive only by fishing."

However, fish stocks near the island have decreased over the years, and the fishermen are unable to venture farther out to sea because their small boats are unsuited to the open ocean. The weather is also a dominant factor, and the fleet is often confined to port when the seas are rough.

In response, many fishermen have taken part-time work offered by the authorities as part of government efforts to develop the islands. Zhang Xiangfang is primarily a fisherman, but he also drives motorboats to ferry government officials between the islands. "You need a bit of luck for fishing. Sometimes you can make more than 200 yuan ($32) on a single trip, but sometimes you barely break even, given the cost of fuel," he said.

Cultural shortfalls

Sansha has already attracted a raft of private businesses eager to explore its maritime resources, according to the city government. As of July, nearly 100 companies had registered in the city, and the total registered capital was 1.12 bill-ion yuan.

Island infrastructure drive set to make waves

"You can see from the blue water and white sand that the marine ecology is still beyond comparison with any other coastal waters in China," said Li Guangyi, deputy manager of Lanlifang Maritime Technology Co, which operates a number of pearl oyster hatcheries in the waters around Zhaoshu Island.

Li said Lanlifang Maritime chose Sansha largely because of local government measures designed to help businesses diversify their income channels. However, some other businesspeople said the authorities should make more efforts to attract more companies and talented individuals to the islands and encourage them to stay.

Yongxing Island has one commercial street, Beijing Road, which boasts a supermarket, a few restaurants, a coffee shop, a barbershop, banks and a post office.

"Compared with life in other places, the city suffers from severe shortages of material and cultural resources," said Li Huadong, general manager of a barbeque restaurant on Beijing Road. The restaurant offers free movie screenings every night, and the large audiences they attract are evidence that life on the island can become monotonous, a factor that has dissuaded many businesses from making the move there.

"The city should try to showcase the local culture and make life on the island more interesting, rather than simply trying to improve the infrastructure. People need more things to do," Li said.

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