Authorities in southwest China's Tibet autonomous region have quashed plans to run lake cruises on the region's famous Yamdrok Lake amid controversy over the activity's potential damage to the plateau ecology.
A local tourism company's plan to offer tourists leisure boat tours on the lake had never received the necessary authorization, the local government in Shannan prefecture near Lhasa confirmed on Monday.
The Shannan government has told Nanggarze county, home to the lake, to halt the project and promised to penalize the responsible organizations and individuals for the exploitation.
"No organizations or individuals are allowed for tourism or other commercial activities on the lake," according to a statement posted on the Shannan prefecture's website xzsnw.com.
Reports of the cruise project, which appeared in a Lhasa-based newspaper on Friday and spread quickly on the web, sparked widespread concern over potential harm to water quality.
The cruises had been scheduled to begin at the end of June, with leisure boat "Qomolangma I" (named after the world's tallest peak), two ferries and several speed boats, as well as chairs and parasols on the beach.
The public locally and further afield bombarded the project with criticism.
While devout Tibetan Buddhists have interpreted the tours as lacking respect for the faithful who worship the sacred lake with prayers and prostration, many other Chinese believe the boats and the sharp increase in tourists would taint the lake water and eventually put the plateau environment at risk.
The local government of Shannan expressed thanks for these people's environmental awareness and their readiness to protect Tibetan culture and ecology.
"We have monitored the lake environment and confirmed it remains unpolluted," the statement added.
One of Tibet's three largest sacred lakes, Yamdrok Lake is about 100 km from regional capital Lhasa and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. A local legend goes that the lake is the transformation of a goddess.
June is the beginning of Tibet's tourism season. According to the local tourism bureau, more than 1,000 tourists have visited the region every day since the start of the month.
The bureau said Tibet received 1.45 million tourists in the first five months of 2012, showing an increase of 25.7 percent year on year.
It said Tibet expects 10 million tourist arrivals and 12 billion yuan in tourism revenues this year.
The regional government said Tibet is striving to build itself into an international tourist destination, with a goal of drawing 15 million visitors annually by 2015.