National surveys often show that people from the tropical island province of Hainan are high on the happiness scale. A healthy ecology and green-themed sustainable practices are the key elements cited.[Special coverage]
"I travel around the world but Hainan is always home," one survey respondent wrote. The reasons the respondent gave for choosing Hainan as a permanent place of residence were many, but the island's quality ecological resources were at the top of the list.
Hainan has taken several proactive steps to preserve its lush rain forests, verdant mountains and pristine sandy beaches - both to protect ecological diversity and to make sure the province's proud reputation as a tourist haven remains unblemished.
An office in charge of overseeing protection of the province's rivers asked local city and county governments earlier this month to submit proposals by the end of May on how to better care for and improve the major rivers' ecological health.
Last year, Hainan undertook a comprehensive approach to protect its rivers, lakes, bays and small islands. The new system requires officials from all levels of local government to shoulder their responsibility in protecting the waterways in their jurisdictions.
The Meishe River and the terrace-style Fengxiang Wetland Park in the provincial capital, Haikou, have become popular gathering spots for locals thanks to ongoing efforts to improve their ecosystems.
"The city government closed 31 discharge outlets along the 23.8-kilometer Meishe River, the main river of Haikou, and built three wastewater treatment facilities with a total daily processing volume of 7,500 metric tons. Newly seen aquatic vegetation such as purple arrowroot, water lilies and thalia cover 405,000 square meters and have helped purify the river water to a higher quality level," said Zeng Weihua, deputy director of Haikou's water resources bureau.
He believes the new waterway protection system will ensure that the benefits from the river restoration campaign will keep flowing in.
Shen Xiaoming, Hainan's governor, said the system of appointing officials as "chiefs" to protect rivers, lakes, bays, islands and mountains, will be strictly implemented to safeguard the island's unique natural resources.
Qizi Bay in Changjiang county, on the western coast of the island, was a barren wasteland plagued by sandstorms half a century ago. But after a greening campaign by the local government beginning in 1992, landscapes have been transformed and farmers like Tao Fengjiao, along with her neighbors, have enthusiastically taken part in the campaign.
Over a quarter-century later, the 59-year-old Tao doesn't remember how many trees she and her sisters planted in barren areas. But a forest of Australian pine trees that covers an area of 1,254 hectares now stretches along Qizi Bay and has become part of the natural attraction of the region.
As a result of the greening campaigns, more than 130,000 hectares of trees have been planted across the province, extending the general forest coverage rate to 62.1 percent, one of the top three ratios among provinces nationwide, officials with Hainan's forestry department said.
Meanwhile, Hainan is changing the way it measures its GDP, and now places greater emphasis on its central counties, including Qiongzhong, Baisha, Wuzhishan and Baoting, which are considered core ecological protection zones on the island. Meanwhile, ecological protection has been made a top priority within overall economic development.
According to the comprehensive plan for the province, 2015-30 - which is considered a blueprint for overall development and environmental protection - more than 11,535 square kilometers of land, accounting for 33.5 percent of the island's total area, and another 35.1 percent of offshore areas, have been designated as areas for special care and protection.
Liu Cigui, Party secretary of Hainan, said the province is on a path toward building an even better living space for its residents, including a four-season garden getaway and a holiday resort for Chinese and overseas tourists under the national strategy of developing the tropical island into an international tourism island destination.
He said ecological resources are Hainan's "best capital".