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Pratas Islands

Pratas Islands
Disputed islands
Other names: Dongsha Islands
Pratas Islands from space, January 1986.
Pratas Islands is located in South China Sea
Pratas Islands
Pratas Islands (South China Sea)
Location South China Sea
Total islands 3
Major islands Pratas Island
North Vereker Bank
South Vereker Bank
Area 174 ha (429.96 acres) (land), 64 ha (158.15 acres) (lagoon)[1]
Length 2.8 kilometres (1.7 mi)
Width 0.865 kilometres (0.537 mi)
Administered by
Republic of China (Taiwan)
Claimed by
People's Republic of China
County-level city
Prefecture-level city

Population None permanent
Stele erected on Pratas Island by the ROC Ministry of the Interior
South China Sea

The Pratas Islands, also known as the Dongsha Islands, are an national park. The main island of the group—Pratas Islandis the largest of the South China Sea Islands.[3]


  • Name 1
  • History 2
  • Geography 3
  • Settlement 4
    • Airport 4.1
    • Pratas Island landmark 4.2
    • Pratas Island stone tablet 4.3
    • Da Wang temple 4.4
    • Symbol of national sovereignty 4.5
    • Measuring memorial stone tablet 4.6
    • Triangulation bench mark 4.7
    • Library 4.8
    • Post office 4.9
    • Fishermen's service station 4.10
  • Government 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The English name of the islands derives from the Portuguese Ilhas das Pratas ("Silver Plate Islands"), which was given to the atoll in the 16th century owing to its round shape.

Dongsha is the pinyin romanization of the Chinese name Dōngshā Qúndǎo (t 東沙群島, s 东沙群岛), meaning "Eastern Sandy Archipelago". The name distinguishes it from Xisha, the western archipelago, better known as the Paracel Islands.


The Pratas Islands were first recorded by the Chinese over 1000 years ago in the book "Guangzhou Ji" (廣州記) written by Pei Yuan (裴淵) during the Jin Dynasty. Chinese fishermen fished in the sea around the Pratas by that time.

The British screw sloop HMS Reynard was wrecked on the Pratas Islands in 1851 while going to the aid of another wrecked vessel; the crew were all saved.[4]

In 1908-1909 a Japanese businessman named Nishizawa Yoshizi (西澤吉次) established a guano collecting station, destroyed the Dawang Joss House (大王庙), and dug up graves and poured the bone ashes of Chinese fishermen into the sea there, and renamed the atoll "Nishizawa Island",[5][6] but after a diplomatic confrontation, Chinese sovereignty was re-established, and Nishizawa withdrew, after being compensated by the Guangdong provincial government, and after paying compensation for the destruction of a Chinese fishermen's shrine.[7]

Japanese Naval personnel occupied Pratas Island during World War II. The Japanese Navy used Pratas Island as a weather station and listening outpost until May 29, 1945 when a landing party consisting of Australian commandos and US naval personnel from the submarine USS Bluegill raised the US flag and declared the island a United States territory and named it Bluegill Island. During the allied occupation a radio tower, weather station, fuel, ammunition dump and several buildings were destroyed. No lives were lost during this raid as all of the island's occupants fled just days prior to Bluegill‍ '​s raid.[8] The islands were later restored to the Republic of China's Guangdong Province.[9]

The islands have been uninhabited, yet nations (including China and Japan) have claimed them to be their overseas territory. After World War II, the islands and the sea around them were mandated by United Nations.

In the Journal of Science (April 1867) there is a nine-page article entitled "The Natural History of Pratas Island in the China Sea" by Dr. Cuthbert Collingwood, the naturalist on board HMS Serpent. It describes what was observed, especially bird life, during a visit of two days while the survey ship lay at anchor.

The islands are currently administered by the Republic of China (Taiwan) with the postal code 817. In 2007, the Taiwan government designated the Pratas as the Dongsha Atoll National Park, the first marine national park in Taiwan.


The Pratas Islands are located 850 km southwest of Taipei and 340 km southeast of Hong Kong in the northern part of the South China Sea called the Pratas Terrace ().

Pratas Island is 2.8 km (2 mi) long and 0.865 km (1 mi) wide;[10] it is the only feature of the group above sea level. The island is made up of coral atolls and reef flats. Brush, vines and bushes cover some of the island - the rest is white sand.

North and South Vereker Banks are under water.

Other flora and fauna on and around Pratas Island include:

  • Silver silk tree
  • Strawberry tung tree
  • Coconut tree
  • Little terns
  • Turnstones
  • Gullbilled terns
  • Parrotfish
  • Starfish
  • Rock lobsters
  • Crabs
  • Sharks

There are also some seamount formations nearby which are not part of the main island:

  • Jianfeng Seamount (尖峰海山)
  • Maojia Seamount (芼架海山)
  • Beipo Seamount (北波海山)


As a disputed island with no permanent inhabitants, it is visited only by fishermen, military personnel and researchers.


The Pratas Island Airport features a runway located on the north end of Pratas Island with a small airport terminal at the eastern end. The airport is used by the ROC military. A main shack and subordinate shack are located on the southeast end of the island. Two piers on the southeast shore allow for small watercraft to land.

Pratas Island landmark

An obelisk erected after 1946.

Pratas Island stone tablet

In 1954 the ROC Government personnel stationed on Pratas erected a stone tablet on the southern side of the island, facing the ocean.[11]

Da Wang temple

The Da Wang temple is dedicated to 'Kuang Kang' and 'The South China Sea Goddess' - Mazu. It is said that the statue of Guan Gong came to Pratas Island on a canoe in 1948. The soldiers on Pratas Island built a temple to worship her in 1975. Today, the canoe is still kept in the temple. The joss sticks and candles are donated by soldiers, as was the golden sign hung in front of the statue. There is an 'Ever Green' pavilion in front of the temple which was also built by the soldiers. It is the most verdant place on the island.[11]

Symbol of national sovereignty

The Minister for Internal Affairs of the ROC erected the South China Sea Defense stone tablet to declare Republic of China sovereignty in 1989.[11]

Measuring memorial stone tablet

In July 1991 the Kaohsiung City Government erected the Pratas Island measuring memorial stone tablet as a symbol that Pratas Island falls within the jurisdiction of Kaohsiung City.[11] Within Kaohsiung, the islands belong to Qijin District.

Triangulation bench mark

The ROC Government established this spot as the triangulation point for Pratas Island in December 1991. There are words on each side of the base of the triangulation point stone tablet. It reads 'The Pratas Triangulation Point' on the front, and 'Longitude: 116o 43" 42.5601'E, Latitude: 20o 42' 6.2415'N, Height: 2.4875 meters.' The words 'Defend the South China Sea', written by the commander, Lo Ben Li, were also engraved on the stone tablet. As the National Tsing Hua University webpage about the island states, "In addition to making it more convenient to survey and draw navigational maps, and to construct and develop facilities on the island, the establishment of the triangulation point is also the basis of our sovereign rights."[11]


The library is located on one side of the main plaza, and is the center for soldiers to obtain spiritual nourishment. The library contains more than two thousand books.[11]

Post office

The ROC area code for Pratas is 817, and the military post office is Office No. 67. The Ministry of Transportation and Communications issued the 'South China Sea Islands Map Stamps' in 1996, as a set of two stamps. The inscription 'South China Sea Defense' from the national stone tablet on Pratas Island was printed on the five-dollar stamp, and the 'Defend the South China Sea' inscription from the national stone tablet on Taiping Island was printed on the seventeen-dollar stamp. The background was the south China coastline, Taiwan and Hainan Island with the blue sky and sea. This was the first time that the ROC had issued stamps with the theme of the South China Sea.[11]

Fishermen's service station

In 1987 the military and civilian occupants built the 'Pratas Fishermen's Service Station'. The station was built in traditional Chinese courtyard house style, and provides convenient services for fishermen and boats in the South China Sea, insuring the fishermen's safety and upholding ROC sovereignty. The services provided include lodging, medical rescue, entertainment and supply. The station also provides lodging for the scientists who come to conduct research on the island.[11]


Although there are no long term inhabitants on the island, Pratas is administered by the government of Kaohsiung City.

See also


  1. ^ Pratas Islands,
  2. ^ Pratas Island,
  3. ^ Note that Woody Island in the Paracel Islands has a land area of 210 ha, which is greater than Pratas Island's 240-64=176 ha. Also, the PRC's land reclamation activities during 2014 & 2015 have created an "island" of ~230 ha at Fiery Cross Reef.
  4. ^
  5. ^ CCVIC News: "挖我渔民祖坟,并将该岛改名为“西泽岛”。我渔民梁盛等向政府控诉西泽罪行"
  6. ^ 地方志:“驱逐中国渔民,毁渔船,掘渔民祖坟百余座,拆渔民建的大王庙和兄弟所”
  7. ^ Edward Rhoads, China's Republican Revolution: the case of Kwangtung, 1895-1913 (Harvard University Press, 1975), pp. 140-141.
  8. ^ ISSUU - SS-242_BLUEGILL_Part2 by richard pekelney
  9. ^ Sovereignty over the Spratly Islands - The China Post 22 June 2009
  10. ^ If the island is circular, how can it be 2.8km long and 865m wide?
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h From Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University's "Discovering the South China Sea" article.

External links

  • Satellite image of the Pratas Islands, Google Maps
  • History,
  • Pratas Island,
  • Ecological Resources,
  • Man-made sights,
  • Republic of China Dongsha Islands National Park Official Site,
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