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.