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