New measures will be implemented to stop the nation's fossils from being smuggled abroad, a senior official at the Ministry of Land and Resources says. Li Minglu, head of the ministry's division of geological environment, told the South China Morning Post that the ministry was working on a list of fossils for protection. He said the ministry was also working with Customs authorities on procedures to stop valuable ancient fossils leaving the country. Dr Li said regulations against illegal digging - with a maximum fine of 30,000 yuan (HK$28,200) - had been in force since October and officials were now stepping up their efforts to stop the smuggling of fossils abroad. Dr Li said the protection project, originally planned for completion in March, was taking longer than expected and officials were hoping that details of implementation of would be drawn up by the end of the year. 'The process of categorisation and classification of species, the cataloguing of the different species and the determination of what species should be protected are all issues that require experts' opinions - the process is long and complicated,' he said. The mainland boasts rich fossil resources, but legal loopholes and neglect have given smugglers opportunities to make huge profits in the large-scale illicit fossil trade internationally. Dr Li said the problem of smuggling was particularly rampant at some locations, where looters have made huge profits selling the fossils abroad. Traffickers have excavated in a number of locations that are rich in fossils: in western Liaoning where there are bird and plant fossils 200 to 300 million years old; in Guizhou, with its dinosaur fossils 250 to 300 million years old; and in Gansu, which has yielded fossils of vertebrates from 70 million years ago. Last July, 10 well-preserved dinosaur skeletons were among the 2,364 fossil pieces that were discovered as they were about to be smuggled across the Korean border into the international black market. The People's Daily reported that thousands of fossil dinosaur eggs excavated from Xixia county in central China's Henan province had already been smuggled overseas. 'In the past there wasn't much awareness about the importance of preserving fossils,' said Dr Li. 'But fossils are important for many reasons - they tell us about the evolution of our environment and how the Earth has changed.'