Tag Archives: Ecology

A thousand cuts: Greed and politics are destroying some of Asia’s most valuable coral reefs

THE giant clams that lurk in the coral reefs of the South China Sea can live for more than a century and grow more than a metre wide. Their shells are coveted by China’s rich as swanky furnishings or cut into trinkets, such as jewellery. Large specimens can sell for thousands of dollars. The trade is damaging some of the world’s most important ecosystems. China’s giant-clam industry operates from the port of Tanmen on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. There skippers load rickety wooden fishing vessels with provisions for a month. Barrels of water are lashed down at the stern and pigs led to pens at the bow. On the sidedecks sit crude open boats with single-cylinder engines and long propeller shafts. Once the mother ship reaches distant reefs, these are lowered and the propellers used to chew up submerged coral. When the murk clears divers bring up any giant clams that are revealed. The plunder is illegal in China, and trade in giant-clam shells is banned under international treaties. But in Tanmen it operates in broad daylight. Read more: http://www.economist.com/news/international/21692869-greed-and-politics-are-destroying-some-asias-most-valuable-coral-reefs-thousand-cuts

Establish a Marine Protected Area in the South China Sea

The Coral Triangle section of the South China Sea is one of the richest marine ecosystems anywhere on Earth. It is recognized as the global center of marine biodiversity and a global priority for conservation. It is also called the “Amazon of the seas.” Today this region is under threat: China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei all have overlapping territorial claims, especially around the Spratly Islands, where there are worrying signs of military buildup, rampant overfishing, and oil exploration. China is building a number of military bases in the area, including one on Mischief Reef. In a recent image, some 70 construction and military vessels were seen dredging the remote atoll in preparation for a runway, a port facility, and a base. On the nearby Second Thomas Shoal, the Philippines ran a 330-foot landing craft aground and now maintains a permanent presence of marines there in a bid to halt the Chinese invasion. Numerous vessels from the Chinese National Fishing Fleet operate throughout the area, under protection of Chinese coast guard vessels. Fishing boats from several other countries, including Vietnam, are also moving into the area. If left unchecked, this once pristine ecosystem will be destroyed. It is hoped that with time, a peaceful solution among these countries can be reached. As part of this, a significant marine protected area should be included. Until now, the debate has centered on ownership and territorial rights. It is time for the countries involved to commence development of a jointly supported, significant MPA that would become a World Heritage Site preserved and nurtured for future generations. Read more: https://takeaction.takepart.com/actions/establish-a-marine-protected-area-in-the-south-china-sea

Science and Politics in the South China Sea

This past summer, a scientific research vessel from the Philippines was crewed and provisioned, ready to set sail to the heart of the South China Sea to survey coral reefs, collect coral, fish, and other samples, and measure rising ocean temperatures. Then the Philippine government called it off—rising geopolitical tensions had scuttled the trip. Scattered in the middle of the South China Sea, the Spratly Islands are a heavily disputed assemblage of islands, reefs, and atolls. Malaysia, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, and Taiwan all lay claim to pieces of this oceanic real estate for various reasons, including access to oil and gas stores and commercial fisheries. For many research scientists, however, the value is in ecological data. About two decades ago, researchers surmised that the Spratly Islands and the neighboring Scarborough reefs serve as an ecological reservoir for the South China Sea. Ocean models, backed up with genetics, showed that fish and coral from the Spratlys are carried by ocean currents to the coasts of surrounding countries, replenishing populations of vital fish. The planned Filipino expedition was intended to help validate those ocean models, and to monitor coral bleaching and other ocean parameters during this year’s strong El Niño. Read more: http://www.hakaimagazine.com/article-short/science-and-politics-south-china-sea

China Is Building a New South China Sea Fleet for its Maritime Militia

China is building a new South China Sea fishing fleet for its maritime militia in a move that could intensify regional disputes, an expert told a conference at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) Wednesday. China’s maritime militia – one of the more understudied agencies in the exercise of Chinese maritime power – typically uses civilian fishing vessels for a range of missions from rescuing stranded vessels to conducting controversial island landings. While voices in China have long called for their inclusion in activities, this would be the first time that the militia would get its own fishing fleet, a boost for the world’s largest producer and exporter of fish and consumer of seafood. “It appears that China is building a state-owned fishing fleet for its maritime militia force in the South China Sea,” Zhang Hongzhou, associate research fellow at Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told an audience at the two-day conference on Chinese maritime power.   Read more: http://thediplomat.com/2015/07/china-is-building-a-new-south-china-sea-fleet-for-its-maritime-militia/

Beijing’s dredging activities, if verified, could be included in PHL case before int’l tribunal

“We need to verify the location of where these dredging activities are and if any new similar activities have been conducted,” Communications Secretary Herminio B. Coloma Jr. said in a press briefing on Thursday. “If verified, these could be used as additional information that can be included in our petition before the Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations.” Mr. Coloma made these remarks after Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio on Wednesday said that China is dredging 10 reefs, in an area that is being claimed by both the Philippines and China as well as other countries. The damage of reefs is one of the principal claims presented by the Philippines before the Permanent Court of Arbitration earlier this month. In his statement at the Hague in Netherlands on July 7, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said China has “irreversibly damaged the regional marine environment, in breach of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), by its destruction of coral reefs in the South China Sea, including areas within the Philippines’ EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), by its destructive and hazardous fishing practices, and by its harvesting of endangered species.”   Read more: http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Nation&title=beijings-dredging-activities-if-verified-could-be-included-in-phl-case-before-intl-tribunal&id=112625

Building Islands and Burying Reefs in the South China Sea

Island-building isn’t new. San Francisco built Treasure Island in the 1930s for the Golden Gate International Exposition. Miami’s exclusive Star Island was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers back in the 1920s. And of course there are more recent examples, such as Dubai’s infamous Palm Islands. Chinese development at the newly reclaimed Fiery Cross Reef, which lies on the west side of Spratly Island. China’s island-building boom is widely seen as an attempt to tighten its control over the South China Sea. Now, China is fervently adding to that list at an unprecedented rate. For the past 18-plus months, China has been “reclaiming land” in the Spratly Islands, an island chain that consists of more than 200 identified reefs, atolls, islands, and islets in the South China Sea. A half-dozen nations make territorial claims over the strategically important area, and China’s island-building boom is widely seen as an attempt to tighten its control over the South China Sea. So far, China has completed the construction of five islands and continues work on two more. So, what does it take to construct an island chain in the middle of the ocean? It involves massive dredging of sand and corals, dumping sand on top of submerged and partially submerged reefs, and constructing giant concrete seawalls to protect manmade structures. China is topping its fully “reclaimed” islands with helipads, airstrips, military support buildings, solar installations, wind turbines, concrete plants, and radar towers, while also adding on harbors, piers, and desalination pumps. In other words, China is burying reefs under sand and concrete. This would be troubling in any context, but it’s especially worrisome in the Spratly Islands. The reefs there happen to represent one of the most ecologically significant marine environments in the world, providing habitat for diverse marine life, including endangered species and larvae of heavily depleted fisheries in the South China Sea.   Read more: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32052-building-islands-and-burying-reefs-in-the-south-china-sea

China’s maritime actions a ’cause for global concern’

China’s construction of oil rigs and artificial islands in the East Sea were illegal, an international seminar was told in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday. About two hundred Vietnamese and foreign experts from international institutes and universities in the United States, Russia, Japan and the Philippines attended the function. They said China’s actions had adversely impacted peace, security, economies, trade and the marine environment. ADVERTISEMENT Professor Dr. Mai Hong Quy, Rector of the HCM City University of Law, said maintaining an environment of stability, co-operation and development in the Asia-Pacific – and the East Sea in particular – was critical to ensuring peace, maritime and aviation security, and freedom. He added that this was also an obligation and responsibility by countries in the region and the world. Quy said that after positioning an oil rig in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, China had constructed large-scale artificial islands in seven places in Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago. Read more: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/126626/chinas-maritime-actions-a-cause-for-global-concern#ixzz3h5iZoeYf

UNCLOS Part XII and protecting South China Sea’s marine environment

The Global International Waters Assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2005 identified the South China Sea as a large marine ecosystem with more than 2,500 species of marine fishes and 500 species of reef-building corals. The study also found enormously diverse platform reefs and atolls existing, most notably in the Spratly Islands, which play a key role in the nourishment of regional biodiversity. Given the importance of the South China Sea as a highly resource-rich area, marine scientists have expressed overwhelming concern about the impact on the marine environment of the ongoing dredging activities in the South China Sea for the construction of artificial islands. The former Director of Vietnam’s Institute for Strategy and Science Dr. Le Van Cuong stated that the daily dumping of landfill with sand dug from nearby reefs “upsets the marine ecology of the region, completely destroying the formed coral reefs aging hundreds of millions of years”. The chief scientist of the National Geographic Pristine Seas Program, Alan Friedlander, also reinforced this statement by saying that “the dredging and building on coral reefs in the South China Sea is causing irreparable damage to one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth.” He added that dredging kills reefs, and without reefs, fishes would disappear.   Read more: http://www.rappler.com/world/specials/100082-cirss-commentaries-unclos-part-xii-south-china-sea-environment

Science Diplomacy a Crucible for South China Sea Disputes

The increasingly loud accusations and declarations from Beijing and Washington over China’s ambitions to reclaim a string of small islands, coral reefs and lagoons show no signs of ending. However, given the number of international stakeholders in the region, the real promise of science for diplomacy may now be at hand in this complex geopolitical climate. The arena for this convergence of two words- science and diplomacy- was displayed at a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Washington symposium, where marine science, and the emergence of China’s ‘blue economy’ framed a new narrative in understanding the environmental stakes in the region’s escalating conflict. Panelists Dr. John McManus, Rosentiel School of the University of Miami, and Professor Kathleen Walsh, U.S. Naval War College, demonstrated to policymakers how this contested region is not simply about sovereignty claims, but is likely to be recognized as one of the most significant environmental issues of the 21st century. Policymakers may do well to take a lesson or two from nature as they examine how best to address the complex and myriad of sovereignty claims. Just as scientists place their subjects under close microscopic inspection, the policymaker, now more than ever, needs to visit science laboratories, where many contested nations’ researchers are sharing data about the future of South China Sea coral life.   Read more: http://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/science-diplomacy-a-crucible-for-south-china-sea-disputes/

China’s Shifting Sands in the Spratlys

Since 2014 China has been constructing features atop seven coral reefs in the disputed Spratly/Nansha Islands of the South China Sea by dredging sand and coral from existing coral reefs. At last count China’s new features total more than 2,000 acres.[1] This activity has produced much commentary.[2] However, none of the commentary addresses all of the issues arising under international law from this activity. This Insight discusses all of those legal issues: (1) the zonal entitlements of each feature; (2) the zonal entitlements of each of the constructed features (artificial islands); (3) Chinese and U.S. claims as to use of the airspace and water within 12 nautical miles (nm) of the features; (4) the effect of China’s construction on the Philippine arbitration with China, including the construction of lighthouses on some of them; (5) China’s tu quoque defense that other claimants have done the same thing; (6) whether China’s reclamation and construction is consistent with the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the consistency of China’s position on DOC vis-à-vis the Philippines; (7) the parties’ obligation not to tamper with the evidence; and (8) the reclamations’ compliance with international environmental law. This Insight examines each of these issues in turn. The Spratly/Nansha Features in Question Public reports of China’s activities from satellite imagery show the seven reefs on which China has been filling and constructing are Hughes Reef, Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reefs, Johnson South Reef, and Cuarteron Reef.[3] Satellite imagery shows that the dredging has been from ten other reefs as well as these seven. Given that each of the seven reefs are naturally formed areas of coral surrounded by water,[4] the maritime zonal entitlements of each reef depends on whether it is (1) above water at all times, and can sustain human habitation or have an economic life of its own, in which case it is a “full-fledged island”; (2) above water at all times but cannot sustain human habitation or have an economic life of its own, known as a “rock”; (3) below high tide but above water at low tide, known as a “low-tide elevation” (or LTE); or (4) below water at all times.   Read more: http://www.asil.org/insights/volume/19/issue/15/chinas-shifting-sands-spratlys