Pratas Islands

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Pratas Islands
Disputed islands
Other names: Dongsha Islands
Pratas island.jpg
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
Coordinates 20°43′N 116°42′E / 20.717°N 116.700°E / 20.717; 116.700Coordinates: 20°43′N 116°42′E / 20.717°N 116.700°E / 20.717; 116.700
Total islands 3
Major islands Pratas Island
North Vereker Bank
South Vereker Bank
Area 1.74 km² (land), 0.64 km² (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
'Dongsha' redirects here. For other places by that name, see Dongsha (disambiguation).

The Pratas or Dongsha Islands are an atoll in the northeastern South China Sea consisting of three islets about 340 kilometers (211 mi) southeast of Hong Kong. Excluding their associated EEZ and territorial waters, the islets comprise about 2.4 km2 (0.93 sq mi), including 0.64 km2 (0.25 sq mi) of lagoon area.2 The islands are claimed by the People's Republic of China, but controlled by the Republic of China (Taiwan) and organized as a national park. The main island of the group—Pratas Islandis the largest of the South China Sea Islands.


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 Paracels.


Stele erected on Pratas Island by the ROC Ministry of the Interior

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.3

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 island "Nishizawa Island",45 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.6 Japanese Naval personnel occupied Pratas Island during World War II. The Japanese Navy utilized 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 as 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.7 The islands were later restored to the Republic of China's Guangdong Province.8

The islands have historically 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.

Today, the islands are 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.


South China Sea

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 or the Pratas Terrace (20°43′N 116°42′E / 20.717°N 116.700°E / 20.717; 116.700). The island is 2.8 km (2 mi) long and 0.865 km (1 mi) wide.

The island is made up of coral atolls and reef flats. Only Pratas Island is above sea level, Northern Vereker and Southern Vereker atolls are under water. Brush, vines and bushes cover some of Pratas and rest is white sand.

Other flora and fauna on Pratas:

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

The island is shaped like a ring and consists of three major entities in the area:

  • Pratas Island (東沙島)
  • North Vereker Bank (北衛灘)
  • South Vereker Bank (南衛灘)

There are also some seamount formations nearby, but 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 group with no permanent inhabitants, they are visited only by military personnel or researchers.

The Pratas Island Airport features a runway is 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.

The other structures on the island include:

Pratas Island landmark

The Pratas Island landmark is an obelisk erected after 1946

Pratas Island stone tablet

In 1954 the ROC Government stationed on Pratas erected a stone tablet on the southern side of the island, facing the ocean.9

Pratas Da Wang temple

The Pratas 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 him in 1975. Today, the canoe is still kept in the temple. The joss sticks and candles are donated by the soldiers who had returned home, as was the golden sign hung in front of the statue. The temple is an important symbol for them, providing them with spiritual sustenance. 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.9

Stone tablet symbolizing national sovereignty over Pratas

The Minister for Internal Affairs of the ROC erected the South China Sea Defense stone tablet to declare Republic of China sovereignty in 1989.9

Pratas Island 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.9 Within Kaohsiung, the islands belong to Qijin District.

Pratas 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: 116 degrees 43 minutes 42.5601 seconds east, Latitude: 20 degrees 42 minutes 6.2415 seconds north, 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."9

Pratas library

The library is located on one side of the main plaza, and is the center for soldiers to obtain spiritual nourishment. The library now contains more than two thousand books.9

Pratas military 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 is the first time that the ROC had issued stamps with the theme of the South China Sea.9

Pratas fishermen's service station

In 1987 the military and civilian residents built the 'Pratas Fishermen's Service Station' together. 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 Pratas fishermen's service station not only serves the fishermen, it also provides lodging for the scientists who come to conduct research on the island.9


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. ^ "HMS Reynard". William Loney website. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  4. ^ 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"
  5. ^ 地方志dead link:“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”
  6. ^ Edward Rhoads, China's Republican Revolution: the case of Kwangtung, 1895-1913 (Harvard University Press, 1975), pp. 140-141.
  7. ^ ISSUU - SS-242_BLUEGILL_Part2 by richard pekelney
  8. ^ Sovereignty over the Spratly Islands - The China Post 22 June 2009
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h From Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University's "Discovering the South China Sea" article.

External links