Sanya is the southernmost city on Hainan Island, and one of the four prefecture-level cities of Hainan Province, in Southeast China. The city is renowned for its tropical climate and has emerged as a popular tourist destination and has become known as "China's Florida", drawing many retirees from Northeast China during winter.  After seeing a massive influx of visitors in recent years that put great burden on the existing Phoenix Airport (built in 1994 with only one runway), Sanya is looking for a new aviation hub to cope with rising tourism.. Sanya’s new airport, the first airport in mainland China to be built on an artificial island through land reclamation in the sea, will be situated in Hongtang Bay Tourism Resort Zone, Tianya District. The project will involve a total investment of more than 100 billion yuan (~USD 16.3 billion), and the designed annual passenger throughput of the new airport will be 60 million. Scheduled to cover an area of 26 square kilometers on an artificial island in Hongtang Bay, the new airport will have four runways and three terminal buildings upon completion. It will be 5.18 times larger than the current Sanya Phoenix International Airport. Construction began in September 2016 and the airport was originally expected to be put into trial operation on 31 December 2020. Passenger throughput of the new airport is expected to reach 38 million by 2025 and 70 million by 2045. The new airport is expected to be an international transportation hub and a gateway to Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. In addition to the airport, other supporting facilities will be built on the island including an aviation economic zone with an airport and seaport operation area, an international aviation CBD, and an industrial zone in support of the airport. The new airport project is backed largely by HNA Group Co., Ltd., and it is part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” plan (The Belt and Road Initiative).
The massive project was to be 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 in 2014. The reclamation work got underway on the project in April 2017, the same month the project’s initial EIA report was released for public feedback. According to that EIA report for the new airport, related sea reclamation construction will have only a minor impact on coral reefs, but preventative measures must be carefully implemented or greater damage will be done. Specifically, there must be strict oversight of silt in the water. The report suggested that coral reefs at risk of becoming buried by deposits should be relocated, and artificial reefs planted as additional habitat for coral. . Many environmental activists have expressed concern that the project would cause damage to surrounding wildlife, including coral reefs and white dolphins. 
The Chinese white dolphin is a variety of the Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphin, although some consider it a subspecies of the latter. It is a species of dolphin characterized by the pink color of the skin that some individuals may have, therefore, it is also known as the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and Pink dolphin. The Chinese white dolphin is a first-class protected species in China, affectionately nicknamed the ‘pandas of the sea’. Its global conservation status is currently listed as 'vulnerable' on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Threats of overfishing, water pollution and heavy marine traffic, along with coastal development, have all contributed to the drastic decline in the species' numbers. . Friends of Nature (FON) responded to the situation by filing a complaint with the State Oceanic Administration (later as part of the Ministry of Natural Resources since March 2018) in May 2017 about threats from the construction to the environment and over work starting without approval. FON claimed that their investigation team discovered massive sea reclamation construction sites near Sanya's Hongtang Bay, allegedly spreading across 100 hectares. Meanwhile, local authorities have only approved projects to occupy 49.68 hectares. FON further noted that a series of small reclamation project applications, each one to occupy an area of no more than 50 hectares, have been submitted to Sanya's Oceanic and Fishery Department. Together, these projects would cover 418 hectares – an area large enough to have a major impact on the environment. The NGO cited the provincial oceanic and fishery authority as saying that the government could conduct assessments on individual projects, but the environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports should consider them as a whole. FON alleged that many of the ongoing projects fail to block the spread of silt, noting that some construction sites have already been penalized for this infraction. Nevertheless, the NGO called on authorities to halt all illegal construction. 
On 8 November 2017, China's State Oceanic Administration confirmed it ordered land reclamation works for the development of the artificial island, the planned site of New Sanya Airport and a number of resorts, be suspended on 25-Jul-2017 after identifying a number of problematic issues with the environmental impact assessment (EIA) submitted for the project. It also confirmed 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 in 2017. The construction would not restart until another EIA report was approved.  This is considered as a rare victory for the environment. 
Nevertheless, as it used to be common for work to start on a project without environmental approval in China, there has been a flurry of development in the bay since the Hainan government released its plans for the airport scheme. There are already 10 five-star hotels and a seven-star hotel in the area, and a number of holiday home projects are also being built.  According to remote sensing, the unfixed sandbar is largely eroded by the ocean currents, the main part of the reclamation for the airport is also significantly damaged, and some parts are also submerged into the sea or becoming invisible. 
On 10 September 2019, after two years of suspension, a new EIA report of the artificial island for airport was posted on the website of the Natural Resources and Planning Bureau of Sanya for public review, the land reclamation area has been changed to 1697.1 ha, and a newly formed state-owned company, Sanya Airport Construction Co., Ltd. is in charge of the construction work. 
The Mermaid (美人鱼，Měirényú)，a 2016 Chinese–Hong Kong fantasy romantic comedy directed, co-written, and produced by Stephen Chow addressed the reclamation issue through the story that, a playboy business tycoon purchases the Green Gulf, a wildlife reserve, for a sea reclamation project, and uses sonar technology to get rid of the sea life in the area, causing many of the mermaids who rely on the sea to survive to die or get sick.