Illegal Tourism & Poaching of Endangered Species in the Paracel Islands

Photographs posted online recently show Chinese tourists posing with endangered species off the Paracel Islands, a disputed area of the South China Sea. Tourists were posing with red coral, thresher sharks and other fish according to the China News Service . All three thresher shark species have been recently listed as vulnerable to extinction by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

The photos were widely condemned by internet users on the mainland, and raised concerns among conservationists.

The Crescent Group of the Paracel Islands (Image: WikiCommons)
The Crescent Group of the Paracel Islands (Image: WikiCommons)

The authorities have since pledged to crack down on “illegal tourist activity”. Feng Wenhai, the deputy mayor of Sansha said that a task force of police, national security agencies and the coastguard would target illegal tourism boats operating in the area. Other officials and fishermen would apparently also carry out patrols to search for such boats according to Feng.

A tour operator in Hainan province who arranges trips to the Paracel Islands told the South China Morning Post that tourists who wanted to go fishing often chartered illegal boats costing much more than authorised cruises. “They need to find their own charter vessels and gather enough people as the cost is quite high, normally tens of thousands of yuan,” he said.

Given recent Japanese accusation of red coral poaching in disputed waters against China’s government-subsidized fishing fleet and the high-profile arrest and conviction of Chinese fisherman poaching close to 500 endangered sea turtles in Philippine waters, the statement by Feng Wenhai has almost no credibility. How after all can the government control illegal fishing and poaching by tourists when it can’t even stop its own government-funded fishing fleet from raping the sea and ignoring all rules?

In 2012, amid intensifying territorial disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea, China established the city of Sansha to administer the disputed Paracels – known as Xisha in Chinese – and the disputed Spratly Islands and the Macclesfield Bank in the South China Sea. That was two years after the Chinese authorities announced plans to develop the tourism industry in the Paracels.

Map showing the poisition of the Paracels Islands in the South China Sea (Image: WikiCommons)
Map showing the position of the Paracels Islands in the South China Sea (Image: WikiCommons)

The first tourist cruises in 2013 were run by state-owned operators aboard the “Coconut Princess” and set sail from Sanya , the capital of Hainan Island. The four-day, three-night cruises to three of the islets cost from 4,000 yuan (HK$5,000) to 10,000 yuan. However, they are only open to mainland Chinese – foreigners, tourists from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan and those with criminal records are not allowed.

Advertisements

Noctiluca scintillans Makes Global Headlines for HK

As reported by Apple Daily today, a recent bloom of the bioluminescent organism Noctiluca scintillans – often known as “Sea Sparkle” – and a frequent cause of red-tides in Hong Kong (recent posts here, here and here ), has occcured in the sea near Tai Po. The bloom has attracted more and more people hoping to capture the bioluminescence on camera. Some of the images and video have even made international media reports.

But the sudden influx of night-time visitors is causing some aggravation to villagers who are complaining about the noise nuisance. Many people have also been throwing rocks into the sea to agitate the single-celled organisms into sparkling, which is harming the local ecology.  While one or two stones thrown hardly make a difference, several hundred rocks hurled into the sea does create some damage. If you are reading this and planning to go and see the blooms, please DO NOT THROW STUFF IN THE SEA, NOT EVEN STONES. If you really want to see the sparkle then wade in to use your hands or a stick to agitate the water – but I don’t advise this either.

26la1p31

Some villagers have now taken to blocking beaches. Up to 100 visitors are coming to the beaches and cars are now blocking lanes causing a major disturbance to village life.

26la1p32

Advice on viewing Noctiluca scintillans in Hong Kong:

1. DO NOT THROW ANYTHING INTO THE SEA. If you want to agitate the bloom use a stick or branch to swirl the water. Or just watch out for waves which will do the same.

2. Respect local villagers. Do not be noisy and obnoxious. Do not block lanes

3. DO NOT LITTER. TAKE ONLY PICTURES AND VIDEO, LEAVE NOTHING BEHIND.

4.  Use a tripod and a slow shutter speed and high sensitivity (ISO) for long exposures to capture the full sparkle.5. If you can tame your urge to see the sea sparkle in person please do, it would really help the environment (and the villagers). You can just enjoy the images and videos floating around the internet,for example this (probably copied) video:

Click here to see irresponsible behaviour in the Apple Daily article ( so you know what not to do).