1. Location and natural conditions of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos
Hoang Sa and Truong Sa are two coral archipelagos located in the middle of the East Sea. On the first maps of Western navigators they were drawn as being adjacent in the shape of a pennant situated parallel to the coast of Viet Nam from Da Nang to the end of the southern delta. In the last century, with the development of navigation and sea mapping, the coral archipelagos were separated as two archipelagos bearing the names Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, which on foreign maps are often called the Paracels and Spratly archipelagos.
Hoang Sa archipelago is located at about North latitude 15°45’ to North latitude 17°15’ and East longitude 111° to East longitude 113°. It borders the front part of Bac Bo Gulf and is over 120 nautical miles from Ly Son Island (Cu Lao Re Island) of Quang Ngai province; about 140 nautical miles from Hainan Island of China. This archipelago is composed of over 30 islands, rocks, coral hillocks and sand grounds stretching across a large sea area about 85 nautical miles in length (from north to south) and about 100 nautical miles in width (from west to east), occupying an area of about 15,000 km2.
Hoang Sa archipelago is divided into two island groups which are:
The eastern group, including about eight small islands and some coral rock tops protruding out of the water surface. The largest islands are Phu Lam and Linh Con Islands of about 1.5 km2 in area. There are lots of trees, coral and underwater sand grounds on these islands. Other islands such as Cay, Bac, Trung, Nam, etc have areas less than 0.4 km2. Many islands are surrounded by white sand beaches and coral grounds.
The western group, including about 15 small islands. The Hoang Sa, Huu Nhat, Quang Anh, Quang Hoa, Duy Mong, Chim En and Tri Ton Islands have an area of 0.5 km2 or less and are raised above the sea level by four to six meters. Linh Con is the easternmost island and Tri Ton is the southernmost island of Hoang Sa archipelago. The total area of the island part of the archipelago is about 10 km2. Besides the islands, there are coral hillocks and coral belts. These coral hillocks and belts encompass a sea area called “a sea swamp”. The Cat Vang hillock is 30 kilometers in length and 10 kilometers in width.
To the east of Hoang Sa there is a rock and concrete wharf about 180 meters in length. It was built by a Japanese company that the French authority permitted to exploit guano. Now its traces are still preserved intact. There is also a meteorological station, having operated since 1938. In 1947, it was recognized by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). In the international meteorological network it was coded 48860 (the numbers 48 indicate the Vietnamese region).
There are no harsh summers and winters on Hoang Sa. The highest temperature is in July (28(,C on average). The lowest temperature is in January (21°C on average). There are dry and rainy seasons each year; the former lasts from January to June, and the latter from July to December. The annual average rainfall is about 1,170 millimeters. From June to August storms often occur. The vegetation is diversified. On one island trees are luxuriant but on the others there are only shrubs and wild grass. Most plants here originate from the mainland of Central Viet Nam. Many Vietnamese former feudal dynasties ordered trees brought from the mainland and planted on islands as markers so that boats and ships would not crash into each other.
On the islands are sources of lime phosphate made from weathered accumulated guano. French geological explorers estimated that the phosphate reserve is nearly 10 million tons. This is a valuable fertilizer source. There are many valuable types of sea products such as lobster, stichopus japonicus selenka, sea turtles, “elephant ear” sea snails, etc. There is one type of rare sea plant that is very precious on the world market.
In the Nguyen dynasty, Hoang Sa archipelago belonged to Quang Ngai district, Quang Nam province. Since 1938 it belonged to Thua Thien province. In 1961 it was called Dinh Hai commune, Hoa Vang district, Quang Nam province. In 1982, the Vietnamese government decided to set up the Hoang Sa district under Quang Nam-Da Nang province. Now it is the Hoang Sa district of Da Nang City.
Truong Sa archipelago is located in the southeast of Viet Nam at about North latitude 6°30’ to North latitude 12()00’ and East longitude 111°30’ to East longitude 117°30’. Truong Sa archipelago includes over 100 islands, rocks, coral hillocks and coral grounds stretching across a large sea area of over 360 nautical miles in length (from north to south) and about 350 nautical miles in width (from west to east), occupying an area from about 160,000 km2 to 180,000 km2. The island nearest to the mainland is Trifdng Sa Island. It is about 250 nautical miles from Cam Ranh Bay in Khanh Hoa province and is at least 600 nautical miles from the island that is nearest to Hainan Island of China. It is about 960 nautical miles from Taiwan.
The islands of Truong Sa are lower than those of Hoang Sa. The average height of the islands is 3-5 meters above sea level. The largest island is Ba Binh Island, about 0.6 km2 in area. Next come the islands of Song Tu Tay, Trifdng Sa, Nam Yet, Song Td Dong, Thi Tu, Loai Ta, Sinh Ton, Vinh Vien, An Bang, etc. There are many small islands and underwater rock grounds such as Sinh Ton Dong, Chu Thap, Chau Vien, Ga Ven, Ken Nan, Da Lon, Thuyen Chai, etc. The belts of underwater coral-rock grounds, as wide as a hundred meters, shelter the islands from overflowing waves. The total area of the floating parts of all islands, rocks, grounds and hillocks of Trifdng Sa archipelago is about 10 km2 (the same as Hoang Sa archipelago). But Truong Sa stretches over a sea area tenfold larger than Hoang Sa.

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