China has been killing turtles, coral, and giant clams in the South China Sea – ‘There is no hope for many of these reefs to recover in the coming decades or centuries’Posted by Jim at Wednesday, July 13, 2016
By Julie Makinen
13 July 2016
(Los Angeles Times) – China struck back loudly and forcefully Wednesday after an international tribunal invalidated many of its claims in the South China Sea. But Beijing has largely been silent about some of the tribunal’s most damning findings: that its activities there have “caused devastating and long-lasting damage to the environment.”
The Permanent Court of Arbitration investigated The Philippines’ claims that China has been doing grave harm to the region’s ecology, in violation of its commitments under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The panel of five judges consulted numerous experts, and what they found shocked even them, the tribunal wrote in its final ruling of more than 500 pages. Damage to the coral reefs in the Greater Spratly Islands spread for 48 square miles, and China was responsible for 99% of that, they said.
The tribunal found that China not only failed to prevent Chinese fishing boats from harvesting endangered species – including sea turtles – but also provided armed protection for those vessels. And it concluded that China was “fully aware of” and “actively tolerated” a practice called propeller chopping to harvest endangered giant clams — an activity that basically kills coral reefs.
The South China Sea is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world — home to 76% of the world’s coral species and 37% of the world’s reef fish. Because coral reefs provide crucial habitats for fish and fish larvae, widespread loss can have a major economic and social effect.
Professor John McManus of the National Center for Coral Reef Research at the University of Miami, one of the experts the panel referred to, called on China and other countries in the region that have been fighting for years over territory in the South China Sea to set aside their differences and declare the region an international protected zone, the way Antarctica is managed.
“If we don’t do this, we are headed toward a major, major fisheries collapse in a part of the world where [that] will lead to mass starvation,” he warned in remarks Tuesday to a panel in Washington organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He noted that such a collapse would hurt not just China but many countries in the region. “Talk about military instability,” he said.
Although some of the damage was caused by dredging and island-building, the majority was blamed on the giant-clam harvesting using propellers. McManus called the practice “more thoroughly damaging to marine life than anything he had seen in four decades of investigating coral reef degradation,” the tribunal noted. Many of the clam shells are taken to the Chinese island of Hainan, where they are carved into decorative items and sold to tourists.
“There is no hope for many of these reefs to recover in the coming decades or centuries,” Kent Carpenter, a professor at Old Dominion University in Virginia and another coral expert consulted by the tribunal, said Wednesday from the Philippines, where he’s on a research trip. “China is trying to solidify its claims, and they obviously have decided not to worry about the environmental aspects. … The environment there is now just written off.” [more]