Marine pollution has posed a grave challenge to China over the past year, said State Oceanic Administration (SOA) spokesman Li Chunxian on Sunday in Beijing.
"The coastal marine ecosystem is worsening, the quality of ocean water is deteriorating and large amounts of pollutants are infiltrating from land to the sea." Li was speaking in connection with the SOA's release of a report on marine conditions and accidents in 2004.
A total of 169,000 square kilometers failed to reach the standard of clean water, an increase of 27,000 square kilometers, or 16.0 percent, from the previous year.
The most heavily polluted areas were concentrated along the coastline, including Bohai Bay and the mouth of the Yangtze River.
Pollution levels increased most significantly in the Bohai Sea, which lies off China's northeast coast, one of the country's most populous and developed areas. An area of 27,000 square kilometers, accounting for 35 percent of its waters, failed to reach clean water standards.
Discharge of land waste through ocean dumping is the major cause of ocean pollution, with 80 percent of sea areas near effluent outlets reported as heavily polluted.
Pollution has affected aquatic products, many of which are harvested in offshore waters, and has caused the closure of beaches and limited the recreational and aesthetic value of the sea.
"Pollution has undermined the multiple functions of the sea," said Li.
In 2004, major pollutants carried by the major rivers into the sea weighed 11.5 million tons.
Li said land-generated waste and over-exploitation of resources had worsened the ecosystem.
The SOA's report on marine accidents was somewhat less gloomy, with economic losses being contained to 5.4 billion yuan (US$653 million) despite major storms, typhoons, red tides, tidal waves and oil spills. Such events claimed the lives of 140 people.
"Typhoons and storms were the major marine catastrophes for China in the past year. They caused 5.2 billion yuan (US$628 million) of direct economic loss and killed 49 people," said Li.
Red tides occurred 96 times last year -- 19 percent fewer than the previous year -- and were more often found in the East China Sea and Bohai Sea. More than 20 were toxic.
Li said that the toxic red tides did not affect human beings or the aquatic breeding industry owing to rapid emergency measures taken by marine authorities.
Several departments have cooperated to establish a basic marine environment and disaster observation network and an early warning system covering both offshore areas and deep waters.
(China Daily January 10, 2005)