MATSU, Taiwan -- In the darkness, Chinese ships edge closer to Taiwan's Matsu Islands, at times entering Taiwan-controlled waters. They are not military vessels, but huge sand dredgers that spend hours pumping up tons of sand from the ocean floor. There are so many lit boats they resemble traffic on a highway, and their loud mechanical rumblings echo across the otherwise quiet islands.
Dozens -- and at their peak, hundreds -- of these 2,000-ton vessels have been making their presence felt in the waters off Matsu. The small islands are part of Taiwan, but much closer to the Chinese mainland than Taipei. Residents say the Chinese sand dredgers have disturbed them, spoiled their coasts, shrunk their beaches and harmed marine life.