Rising tensions and temperatures in the South China Sea

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Marine environmental protection and management is an important aspect of climate change adaptation. Coastal and marine habitats — especially coral reefs and wetlands — are bastions against waves, erosion and flooding that are predicted to get more frequent and intensified due to climate change.

A report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in early June 2017 confirms this observation, concluding that marine reserves are capable of mitigating and promoting climate change adaptation. At the same time, they stand extremely vulnerable to climate-induced sea warming.

While most countries have already put some marine protection measures in place, the management of shared marine environments — especially in disputed areas like the South China Sea — is lacking. A recent study published in March 2017 shows that 40 per cent of coral reefs in the Pratas Islands (also known as the Dongsha Atoll) in the northern parts of the South China Sea were bleached due to a rise in sea surface temperature during the El Niño in June 2015.

This climate-induced phenomenon is unseen in the last 40 years and has become visible in parts of the South China Sea. Regional mechanisms for the protection and management of this shared marine environment need to be strengthened, despite conflicting jurisdictional and territorial claims.

Rising tensions and temperatures in the South China Sea

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