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Work has stopped on a controversial 100 billion yuan (US$15 billion) airport island reclamation project at one of China’s top tourist resorts, in a rare win for the environment. The State Oceanic Administration confirmed that it ordered a halt on July 25 to reclamation for the artificial island off the coast of Sanya in Hainan province. The SOA told NGO Friends of Nature last week that the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) report was not approved before construction started on the 26 square kilometre island in Hongtang Bay earlier this year. The massive project is being built next to the Sanya Coral Reef National Nature Reserve and a habitat for the protected Chinese white dolphin, and has attracted controversy since its plan was unveiled three years ago.

Backed largely by HNA Group, the artificial island is one of the Hainan government’s pet projects and is meant to help absorb the ever-rising tide of tourists heading to the area’s resorts.

Work got under way on the project in April, the same month the project’s EIA report was released for public feedback. Friends of Nature responded by filing a complaint with the administration in May about threats from the construction to the environment and over work starting without approval.

In a letter to the NGO on Friday, the SOA said it conducted technical assessments, solicited public opinion and held a public hearing on the report, identifying “quite a number of problems” with the document.

An SOA spokesman told the South China Morning Post that construction would not restart until another EIA report was approved.

“Of course they can only resume work when all the problems are sorted out,” the spokesman said.

Ge Feng, director of legal and policy advocacy at Friends of Nature, said the group complained to the SOA about the lack of approval for the project, the potential damage to the sea floor ecosystem and the risk of burying coral reefs.

In the EIA report, the authors admitted that the project would cost the Chinese white dolphin some of its habitat, though it was “not a significant” area compared with the species’ overall maritime range.

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