South China Sea: Turning Reefs Into Artificial Islands? – Analysis South China Sea: Turning Reefs Into Artificial Islands? – Analysis


Large-scale reclamation work in the South China Sea using living coral reefs as building material is causing severe environmental damage. It is also against international law.

By Youna Lyons and Wong Hiu Fung*

China’s ongoing reclamation activities in the South China Sea are a cause for environmental concern, given their potential to destroy the little-explored pristine coral reefs of the Spratlys. This development comes as a surprise coming at a time of loss of biological diversity on land and in the sea, and an acute concern for the degradation of the natural environment.

These marine features lie in contested waters. High resolution commercial satellite imagery shows mechanical dredgers and their circular trails operating on reefs in the Spratlys where substantial land reclamation work is being or has been undertaken by China. This is particularly visible on Fiery Cross Reef, Hughes Reef, Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Gaven Reef and Johnson South Reef. Even unoccupied shallow features have been dredged to provide building material for nearby reclamations. Coral reefs that have been left untouched for centuries by virtue of their isolation are now gone.

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