Tag Archives: Environmental Impact

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

South China Sea: the far-reaching consequences of island-building

WASHINGTON – What has been largely overlooked in the conversation to date around China’s campaign of dredging and construction in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea is the necessary synthesis between the geopolitical and environmental aspects of the issue. In recent months, U.S. Navy patrols in the South China Sea and denouncements by high-ranking U.S. officials have brought international attention to the troubling security implications of China’s actions. A secondary line of reporting across the English-speaking world has also emphasized the ecological damage this artificial island-building is causing to a large system of coral reefs, with high-resolution satellite data illustrating the extent and pace of the damage. With regard to these two lines of analysis — security and ecology — the conversation to date has been notably and regrettably stove-piped. To be clear, China’s actions is a violation of international law, a potential precursor to interference in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, and a catalyst for military confrontation. The worst case scenario — wherein the People’s Liberation Army Navy is able to “lock down” the South China Sea and prevent freedom of navigation by, say, a U.S. Navy carrier strike group or liquefied natural gas tankers headed for Japan — is worrisome on multiple levels. But geopolitical concerns actually go hand in hand with ecological concerns. The Spratly Islands’ coral reefs serve as spawning grounds and nurseries for nearly 400 fish species, including various commercially important stocks. Read more: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/11/16/commentary/world-commentary/south-china-sea-far-reaching-consequences-island-building/#.Vk-xfd8rLab

The Cost to Doing Nothing in the South China Sea

President Obama’s visit to the Philippines this week will train a spotlight on the fiercely contested South China Sea. Both he and his hosts will likely call on China and other claimants to maintain the status quo in the region until their various differences can be resolved. Yet while that may be the best one can hope for geopolitically, it could be a disaster environmentally. In 2012, the South China Sea accounted for around 12 percent of the global seafood catch. If nothing changes, according to a new report from scientists at the University of British Columbia, those waters could lose nearly 60 percent of their stocks by 2045. Preventing that disaster isn’t impossible, but it’ll require multilateral talks and regional agreements on resource sharing that seem impossible given current tensions. Overfishing isn’t a problem confined to Asia, of course. But due to the leading role that seafood plays in regional diets and economies, the problem is more acute here and has only become more so as the region has grown more affluent. Data collected by UBC researchers show that catches have steadily increased along with the number of fishermen since the 1950s. By the mid-1990s, quantities of fish in some parts of the South China Sea had already shrunk by 90 percent compared to mid-1960s levels. Every country in the region has played a role in that decline. Still, over the last four decades, China’s naturally had the biggest impact. Between 1978 and 2013, China’s fishery production increased from 5 million tons to 60 million tons per year. In 2013, it accounted for 17 percent of the global catch — and nearly half of the South China Sea catch (worth around $21 billion). Read more: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-11-16/the-cost-to-doing-nothing-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’s island building is destroying reefs

The geopolitical maneuvering in the South China Sea (SCS) is taking a heavy toll on the marine environment, scientists believe. The Spratly or Nansha Islands, a cluster of coral reefs and atolls, has become the focus of a territorial dispute between China and its neighbors. To the dismay of other countries bordering the SCS, China claims most of the sea, and it is bolstering its claims with a massive landfilling effort to transform some of the atolls into full-fledged islands. The scale and speed of the effort emerged earlier this month, when the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., released high-resolution satellite photos showing that over the past 2 to 3 years, China has created 13 square kilometers of island area—abxzxout a quarter the size of Manhattan. In doing so, China has destroyed large areas of biodiverse reef that served as nurseries for fisheries throughout much of the SCS. Read more: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/349/6255/1434.summary

South China Sea – A Hot Debate On The Horizon

The latest satellite imagery of the South China Sea clearly shows that the Chinese have stepped up a notch in terms of completing the construction of an artificial island in a bid to gain a stranglehold of the region, a measure that has really annoyed quite a few regional players and has also ruffled a few feathers down in Washington. South China Sea Fleet For years, China has claimed to have sovereignty over the much-talked region and although the likes of Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei have also claimed right over the disputed territory, it is clear that the Chinese are not in any mood to relinquish their stance over the zone. The importance of this strategic area cannot be stressed enough considering the fact that each year, approximately $5.3 trillion worth of goods pass through this area which means that any state having prime authority over these water, will be reaping quite a few economic rewards through these passes. Beijing is desperate to gain control over the transit routes that are peppered all over the South China Sea and despite the annoyance of United States over the issue, is not going to dampen down its resolve. Read more: http://www.valuewalk.com/2015/09/south-china-sea-a-hot-debate-on-the-horizon/

China’s Artificial Islands in the South China Sea Are Killing Ocean Life

Marco Rubio raised fears about China’s “artificial islands” blocking ocean traffic in the South China Sea during the recent GOP debate, but scientists think shipping lanes are the least of our concerns. A new article in the journal Science points out that the man-made islands are already taking a huge toll on the environment. China’s already built its faux islands in the middle of the South China Sea using the Spratly Islands as building blocks. Spratly Islands is kind of a convenient misnomer for the Chinese because they aren’t really islands at all; they’re ring-shaped coral reefs, or atolls. They are, for both fish and Chinese island builders, perfectly formed. They offer smaller fish protection and larger fish potential hatcheries. They offer the Chinese convenient places to pour sand in order to make artificial land. Read more: https://www.inverse.com/article/6465-china-s-artificial-islands-in-the-south-china-sea-are-killing-biodiversity

South China Sea Images reveal impact on coral of Beijing’s military bases

As China races to extend its military reach, it is turning pristine habitats into permanent islands. Satellite images of the South China Sea show rapid destruction of some of the most biodiverse coral reefs in the world. The reclamation of land in the contested Spratly archipelago to build runways, military outposts and even small towns is endangering ecosystems that are key to maintaining world fish stocks and biodiversity Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2015/sep/17/south-china-sea-images-reveal-impact-on-coral-of-beijings-military-bases

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/