Two great challenges loom in the disputed waters and features in the South China Sea: the need for resilient maritime security enforcement mechanisms and protection against further environmental degradation.
The maritime space is essential to human development, providing sea lanes and valuable resources to fuel our societies. South-east Asian waters host some of the most diverse global marine ecosystems in the world, hosting 76 per cent of the world’s coral species and 37 per cent of reef fish species. According to Mr Edgardo Gomez, professor at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, coral reefs are among the most economically lucrative of ecosystems, valued at over US$350,000 (S$485,000) per hectare per year. Ocean filling (or island-building as it is also known) and large-scale illegal fishing thus come with both an environmental and economic price.
Additional problems in the South China Sea stem from ongoing sea robberies, piracy and incursions of territorial waters – a reflection of the reality that littoral states simply do not have a robust capacity to cooperate in patrolling their waters.