Environmental protection workers in Qionghai in the southern province of Hainan are on high alert against potentially damaging oil spills.
Under threat is the Wanquan River, which has been one of the country's cleanest waterways. Qionghai residents complained to the city's Environmental Protection Bureau after spotting oil residues.
Fu Shi'en, head of the inspection team with the bureau, said the oil was from vessels anchored at the mouth of the river and was washed upstream by the incoming tide.
He also said six outflows were spewing untreated sewage into the river, which accounted for the "pungent" smell.
"The rainfall in the past few months has been much less than normal, and this makes the water level of the river fall, hampering the flow. Thus the pollutants have accumulated," said Fu.
He said his bureau was working with other government departments to prevent oil leakage from vessels and clean up the once pristine river.
"We will make more effort to inspect the water quality of the river and get rid of pollutants in time," said Fu.
The Wanquan River is regarded as a lifeline by the community that lives along it, and Hainan relies on tourists who flock there for its natural beauty, including its clean rivers and coast. Thanks to favorable natural conditions and preservation efforts, the tropical island has been one of the few places in China with comparatively few environmental problems.
The pollution reports came as Sanya, a seaside city on the southern tip of the island, was approved for the third straight year to be the venue for the 55th Miss World beauty pageant in December, an event that is often branded sexist elsewhere in the world for its objectification of women.
Qionghai is also near Boao, which will host the Boao Forum for Asia from April 22 to 24.
Haikou, the provincial capital, hopes to win a UN habitat award this year, given to individuals or organizations committed to improving the urban environment. Officials said their drive to keep the island a green paradise will not falter.
Lin Buyi, director of the Haikou Environmental Protection Bureau, said they are implementing a plan to control air, water and noise pollution.
He said: "We aim to slash industrial emissions and make reductions on vehicle emissions. Smoke from the catering trade and dust from construction sites are also prioritized by our 'blue sky' project."
Lin added that, so far, about 74 per cent of downtown Haikou meets national sound standards for noise pollution.
According to Lin, the municipal government is expected to invest more than 800 million yuan (US$97 million) in environmental protection in the next five years.
At the end of last year, local fishermen reported pollution involving at least 100 tons of oil along forty kilometers of seashore northwest of Haikou, the cause of which is still unknown.
(China Daily January 21, 2005)