Across China: Chinese island plants corals to restore marine ecology

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HAIKOU, June 8 (Xinhua) -- On the silent seafloor, Wang Fengguo can only hear the bubbles stream out of his oxygen tank when he exhales. That helps him focus as he plants strains of palm-sized coral into the seabed.

Once a diving instructor, the 38-year-old is now a coral keeper who helps maintain and restore the marine ecology on Sanya Wuzhizhou Island, a popular tourist destination in south China's Hainan Province.

"I felt very sad when I witnessed the corals were damaged and died in large numbers as I was teaching diving," said Wang.

Local corals have faced both natural and human threats, Wang said. Apart from the damage caused by typhoons and surges, tourists would accidentally break the coral reefs, and fishing nets discarded by fishermen would get caught in the corals leading to their death.

The island has been transplanting and repairing the corals since May of 2009. That year, Wang and his colleagues placed more than 200 artificial reefs under the sea to act as coral nursery.

Since then, the team has transplanted about 10,000 strains of corals, covering over 20,000 square meters around the island, Wang said, adding many strains have grown from 10 cm to 30 or 50 cm, with the longest reaching 1 meter.

Coral transplantation is an extraordinarily challenging job. "In order to avoid touching the coral so that it's not damaged, we can't stand on the seafloor, but remain suspended in the water with our heads down," Wang said.

"It is quite exhausting to dive wearing more than 15 kg of equipment and staying under water for three to four hours," he said. "It is even more exhausting than running 10 km."

After 10 years of coral transplantation and restoration, colorful underwater landscapes reappeared around the island, attracting lots of diving enthusiasts from home and abroad.

"It's amazing to dive here," said Wang Tianhong, a diving enthusiast from Beijing. "I've seen many beautiful clownfish swimming among the colorful coral reefs and even a turtle."

Yang Fuxin, in charge of the island's diving program, said the diving areas are now divided into two docks, one for summer and the other for winter so coral reefs get time for restoration.

"The divers will pick up the garbage under the sea, and we also ask tourists never to touch the coral," said Yang. "If the coral is damaged, the number of fish will decline as well."

In 2010, Wuzhizhou Island launched a more comprehensive drive to build a marine ranch and restore the marine ecosystem, by dropping artificial reefs into the sea and transplanting corals.

"Marine ranching is like building houses for marine organisms through placing artificial reefs, providing them with places to rest, hide, live, and breed," said Wang Aimin, a professor at the College of Ocean Sciences of Hainan University.

By the end of 2019, 1,526 artificial reefs, 21 ship-reefs and a cluster of volcanic rocks had been placed in the marine ranch of Wuzhizhou Island, covering about 66.7 hectares, according to Wang.

"Marine ranching has helped develop the coral reefs into an 'undersea forest' and rebuilt the marine ecosystem," Wang said. "The ecological benefits in Wuzhizhou are clear: the number of fish in the area with artificial reefs underneath is five times that of neighboring areas without reefs."

By the end of 2019, China had completed the construction of 110 state-level demonstration marine ranching zones, including Sanya Wuzhizhou Island, data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs shows. Enditem

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