The dredging project is primarily aimed at expanding tourism in the form of sightseeing cruises. The overall tourism project is named “Sightseeing Shenzhen from the Sea.” The first sightseeing boat was launched in November 2017, departing Shekou Cruise Center and Shekou Port to Shenzhen Bay Bridge and back for a twice-daily voyage of 100 minutes.
Song Dingceng, director of the Tourism and Real Estate Research Center at the China Development Institute, contended the tourism project is valuable for local development. “It’s an important and very astounding perspective to see Shenzhen from the sea, and it will allow more people to realize how beneficial the ocean is to the city,” Song said.
Zhou Junmin, director of the China Development Institute, who has been living in Shenzhen for more than 20 years, said the sea tourism project was intended to help push momentum for the city apart from its already established industries. But as it stands, the project has limited prospects due to inconvenient transportation at the port and the restricted sailing routes for the cruise ships. Official statistics show that by September 2019, only 50,000 tourists had gone on the boat trips.
The fake EIA did point out the obstacles to developing the project: The views are not inspiring, either by day or by night, and the sightseeing boats are not of a high standard.
That was why local authorities decided to explore whether the route could be extended under the Shenzhen Bay Bridge as the views would be better and the trips more interesting.
The planned channel from Shekou Port to Shenzhen Estuary would be a 300-ton class coastal waterway of 17 kilometers and is projected to cost 100 million yuan (US$15.5m). The first phase of the project to Talent Park requires four kilometers of dredged waterway, and the area of sea used for dredging is about 48.5 hectares, which does not occupy the shoreline.
Ma Haipeng said that although the project was described as dredging, in fact it would be a completely new channel. After the dredging, more investment would be required, such as building new pleasure cruisers, constructing a wharf in Talent Park, installing a night light show and constructing anti-impact measures for Shenzhen Bay Bridge. At the same time, Shenzhen Bay is an area of high siltation, requiring regular dredging which is already costly. The first tranche of the investment, 100 million yuan (US$14.1m) is only earmarked for the early dredging.
The Sea View Shenzhen project officially began in September 2019 when local authorities announced the upgrading and dredging of the cruise channel. In early November 2019, Shenzhen Transportation Bureau ordered officials to go to Talent Park to study where the wharf would be sited, with plans for a 2,000-ton passenger berth.
The project was incorporated into the work plan of the Shenzhen municipal Party committee and government, with a planned launch date of August 26, 2020, the 40th anniversary of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. But after the fraudulent EIA became public, the entire project was halted. NewsChina contacted Shenzhen Transportation Bureau to ask about its future, but did not receive a reply.
Some have questioned why Shenzhen should not develop coastal boat trips like other seaside destinations in China.
Environmentalists counter that Shenzhen, due to its geographical location, cannot refer to the experience of sightseeing tourism adopted by other coastal cities. “The conditions in Shenzhen Bay are not comparable to those in other coastal cities such as Shanghai. For example, the Huangpu River in Shanghai is surrounded by buildings and existing waterways and can be developed without dredging,” Ma Haipeng added.
Ma said that despite the limitations of Shenzhen Bay due to geography and ecology, authorities are still determined to continue with the dredging project.
Shenzhen Bay’s significance is its ecological value. Cai Zhiyang said that where there are sightseeing cruises in places such as Shanghai or Hong Kong, the waters are already deep, and thus, despite tidal effects, low tides do not reveal extensive intertidal wetlands. Most importantly, these cruise areas do not possess rich biodiversity or migratory bird resources.
Ecological protection and tourism are not necessarily incompatible. “The current problem is a lack of in-depth discussion among stakeholders, especially when they deprive participation of environmental protection experts with background in fields like mangroves and birds, including representatives from protected areas in Shenzhen Bay and the mangrove ecological parks,” Cai said.
Song said that the best way to develop the project is to organize a group of experts to evaluate the overall resources of the region before considering whether the route needs to be changed.
According to Lei Xiaohan, an engineer with the Shenzhen Municipal Planning and Transportation Department, the city must choose between tourism development and bird protection.
Cai’s study found that some 15 percent of intertidal wetlands have been lost globally over the past 30 years due to man-made interventions, particularly for economic activities. From 1990 through 2015, about 40 percent of the wetlands were reclaimed by Shenzhen. The only remaining intertidal wetlands are located on the east side of Shenzhen Bay.
“Shenzhen’s intertidal wetlands have made a lot of concessions for the economic development of Shenzhen during the past few decades. Do we really need to exhaust all the natural resources for a development plan?” Cai said.