China's State Oceanic Administration (SOA) released a statement on Monday requiring a strict control on the scale of sea reclamation, a move experts said is aimed at containing the growing urge for commercial development.
According to the statement published on the official website of the SOA, the adminsitration has set eight indexes on sea development, including the rate of sea utilization, rate of coastal utilization, investment intensity and ratio of sea reclamation.
Any application that does not conform to the requirement of the eight indexes will be sent back for re-examination.
The administration said that it aimed to improve the efficiency of sea utilization, achieve sustainable development with the minimum use of oceanic space and promote intensive exploitation of coastal resources.
As the cost for sea utilization is far lower than land utilization, Chinese companies have developed a craze for investment on sea reclamation, driven by huge profits.
The SOA's move is aimed at containing reclamation and better managing sea resources, Wang Yamin, a professor with the School of Oceanography at Shandong University, told the Global Times.
In 2013, China streamlined the application and approval process for maritime space development, allowing the market to play a more active role in maritime resources allocation. A report released by the SOA showed that 11,100 hectares of sea reclamation was approved in 2015, an increase of 13.19 percent.
However, it triggered a boom in the construction of factories, houses and offices on reclaimed land in many coastal cities like Dalian in Liaoning Province, Tianjin Municipality and Sanya in Hainan Province.
A 2011 report in the Beijing News said that the SOA approved the Liaoning government for 30 square meters of land reclamation but its six cities planned to fill 1,000 square meters of sea, over 30 times higher than the SOA's plan.
"Over-reclamation will harm coastal ecosystem and cause a decline in oceanic species. In some places, it may lead to a siltation of channel at ports," said Wang, adding that the government should raise the cost of sea utilization and implement stricter approval process.
Some local governments may collude with enterprises for commercial gains. Whether the SOA's rule can be effective in curbing reclamation depends on the relationship between local governments and enterprises and their choices in seeking a balance between development and environmental protection, Wang said.