Having effectively taken over the coastal areas of Hainan province, real estate developers have turned their gaze to the island's wetland, contributing to its disappearance, according to an ecological expert.
"The impact of real estate development on Hainan's wetland is obvious. A lot of wetland has been divided by developers to accommodate apartments and golf courses," said Jiang Haisheng, a professor at South China Normal University's School of Life Sciences in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.
Wetland coverage was reduced by more than 13 percent in the decade after 2003, said Jiang, a Guangdong native who has studied the island's ecosystem since 1982 and sees himself as a Hainan local.
To provide stability for houses near the wetland, developers inject concrete into the ground to harden the surface. The process severs the wetland's "blood vessels" and prevents water from circulating, he said.
"When the development has been completed, people will still see greenery and water, but they don't realize that the complex wetland ecosystem has been damaged and will eventually become lifeless," he added.
Some developers say they only build houses on the wetland's intertidal zone and do not damage the plant life, but the zone, which acts as a "restaurant" for birds, is an inseparable part of the wetland system, according to Jiang. "The birds won't go to the villas to feed, instead they leave the wetland," he said.
Mangrove Bay is a large real estate development surrounding a mangrove wetland in Chengmai county. The wetland stretches down to the sea, but so do the new villas and apartments.
"Many owners are people from Beijing and Hebei province who want to escape the smog," said Li Xiaofu, a sales representative for the development. "The ground has been hardened so people don't need to worry about their properties near the wetland becoming flooded."
A report released in December by the central government after a monthlong inspection in Hainan severely criticized the local authorities for several construction projects that had broken the law and left "scars" on the environment that would be hard to heal.
To rectify such problems, Governor Shen Xiaoming said the provincial government will extend by three years an ongoing campaign to improve the air, water and soil quality, preserve the mountains and forests, and clamp down on illegal construction projects.
On Tuesday, Liu Cigui, Party chief of Hainan, held a meeting with leading local officials on how to protect the wetland. A regulation on wetland protection is also now under review by legislators and is expected to be adopted in the first half of this year.