TAIPEI (Taiwan News)—A Taiwanese scholar on Sunday said that the best way for the Taiwanese government to claim its sovereignty over the Pratas Islands, also known as the Dongsha Islands (東沙環礁群島), is to open the atoll for tourism and turns it into “Taiwan’s Great Barrier Reef.”
The Dongsha Islands are an atoll in the north of the South China Sea about 340 kilometers (211 miles) southeast of Hong Kong.
The People’s Republic of China claims the islands, but the Republic of China (Taiwan) controls them and has declared them a national park.
Academia Sinica biodiversity researcher Chaolun Allen Chen (陳昭倫), who has conducted extensive research on the Dongsha Islands, said that the atoll, with its rich biodiversity, should be open to tourists for scuba diving and other tourism purposes.
The atoll is about 500 square kilometers, and Pratas Island, the only island of the atoll that is above the ocean's surface, has an area of 1.74 square kilometers.
Taiwanese soldiers are routinely stationed on the island and have built man-made facilities among the natural landscapes of coastal forests, lagoons and shell beaches. The island has been made into a park on the ocean complete with a post office, a hospital and a temple.
Looking out to the sea from Pratas Island, three colors of sea waters can be seen that reflect different depths of the ocean--light green, deep blue and deep green--which, according to a visitor, is a rare landscape of Taiwan.
Chen said in an article published in April last year, “To the 23 million Taiwanese people who own the beautiful coral reef biology, Dongsha is a mysterious and unreachable southern territory. Taiwanese people can buy a low cost airline ticket and fly to Boracay in the Philippines for vacationing in about the same time, but they cannot come to the Dongsha Atoll National Park, which has been established for 9 years, to see the natural beauty of the atoll.”
The Dongsha atoll has absolutely all the required conditions to become Taiwan’s Great Barrier Reef, Sipadan, Palau or Maldives, he said, adding that all it takes is deliberate planning of eco-friendly sea and air itineraries.
He urged the government to open the Dongsha atoll for tourism and allow home and foreign tourists to land the island for sightseeing and scuba diving. From his point of view, the soft approach to claiming sovereignty over the territory is more effective.