According to a recent FT.com article the company responsible for most of the destruction of coral reefs and reef habitat in the disputed Spratly Islands is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and is planning an overseas listing.
China Communications Construction Company (HK:1800), a large state-owned infrastructure group, announced in March that it was integrating its three dredging assets into a new company, CCCC Dredging, which it would eventually list overseas. That entity was set up in Shanghai’s Free Trade Zone on Wednesday.
China’s dredging programme has created about half a dozen islands in the South China Sea with deepwater harbours and at least one airstrip.
In the past 18 months, according to the US defence secretary, at least 2,000 acres of land have been reclaimed — more than has been done in 60 years by other claimants to the territory, including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Satellite images analysed by IHS Jane’s, the defence consultancy, show that Tianjin Dredging Company, one of CCCC Dredging’s three subsidiaries, operates most of the giant barges that have been digging sand from the seabed and piling it on remote coral atolls with names such as Mischief Reef, Suba Reef and Fiery Cross.
The flotation plans are curious for secretive Tianjin. A listing would require greater transparency and focus more attention on its activities.
In March CCCC said in a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, where it has been listed since 2006, that it “intends to seek listing of CCCC Dredging overseas at an appropriate market timing”.
Hongkongers and potential overseas investors should be aware that CCCC is not an ethical investment.
It is not just China destroying reefs in the South China Sea by reclaiming land to form island outposts to boost territorial claims. Vietnam is also reclaiming land by dumping enormous amounts of sand on two reefs destroying coral communities and changing the local ecology and likely adversely affecting fish stocks.
The photographs, shared with Reuters by Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), show an expansion of the land area of Vietnamese-controlled Sand Cay and West London Reef in the Spratly archipelego and the addition of buildings.
The director of CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (http://amti.csis.org/), said the work included military installations and appeared to have started before China began a flurry of reclamation projects last year. “On one site, it has constructed a significant new area that was formerly under water and at another it has used land reclamation to add acreage to an existing island,” Rapp-Hooper said.
The images showed that Vietnam had reclaimed about 65,000 square meters (699,654 square feet) of land at West London Reef and 21,000 square meters (226,042 square feet) at Sand Cay. This compared to 900,000 square meters (9.6 million square feet) reclaimed by China at a single reef, Fiery Cross.
Satellite images show that since about March 2014, China had conducted reclamation work at seven sites in the Spratlys and was constructing a military-sized air strip on one artificial island and possibly a second on another.
It appears that claimants to the South China Sea have entered into a land building race that destroys ecology and depletes fish stocks as a result. There can be no real winners in such a race – everybody will lose.
On the 21st of April a committee meeting was held in Legco (HK law making body) to discuss a new regulation on harmful anti-fouling systems. The legislation seeks to ban the use of organotin such as tributylin (TBT) compounds in paints used on ships which kill any organisms trying to colonize the hulls such as barnacles, worm, mussels, algae and others. Despite a lot of petty squabbling (and personal digs at the previous colonial administrations) it looks hopeful that regulation may eventually make it to a 2nd and 3rd reading in Legco and pass into law.
Tributylin (TBT) is a chemical that was used extensively in anti-fouling paints (bottom paints) on ships to improve efficiency by preventing invertebrates and plants clinging to the hulls. TBT is the most successful anti-fouling agent ever invented and was relatively cheap. It was used extensively for 40 years. But TBT slowly leaches out into the marine environment where it is highly toxic to a wide range of organisms beyond the organisms that it was intended to kill. By poisoning barnacles, algae, and other organisms at the bottom of the food chain, TBT levels are concentrated (biomagnified) up the marine food web and even up to us humans. It also causes developmental problems in marine organisms. One of the most studied organisms are marine snails, such as the Dog whelk (Nucella lapillus) in Europe and America. TBT leads a condition termed ‘imposex’ where female snails are ‘masculinized’ and grow penises. Since fewer fertile females are then available for mating, the population begins to decline, which disturbs the balance of the ecosystem.
Vertebrates such as fish and mammals can become affected by TBT through contact with waters contaminated with TBT and by eating already poisoned seafood. The Japanese rice fish (Oryzias latipes), has been used as a model to test the effects of TBT at different developmental stages of the embryo. Scientists found that as TBT concentration increased the developmental rate decreased and that tail abnormalities occurred as a result. Studies have shown that TBT is harmful to the immune system. Research also shows that TBT reduces resistance to infection in fish which live on the seabed and experience high levels of TBT. These areas tend to have silty sediment like harbours and estuaries (like Hong Kong). Mammals, exposed to TBT through their diet, also suffer. TBT can lead to immunosuppression in sea-otters and dolphins. High levels of TBT were found in the livers of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) and stranded bottlenose dolphins. TBT has also been blamed by hearing experts for causing hearing loss in mammalian top predators such as whales. Because hearing is important for mating and predation in these animals, long-term consequences could be drastic.
How TBT can move up the food chain was shown by one study that found most samples of skipjack tuna tested positive for TBT. Tuna from waters around developing Asian nations had particularly high levels of TBT most likely because the regulation of TBT is not as well enforced in Asia as it is in Europe or the US.
In addition TBT last for a long time in the marine environment. Its half-life in the marine environment is around 25 years. TBT sticks to seabed sediments. But that process is reversible and depends on the pH of the seawater. Studies have shown that 95% of TBT can be released from the sediments back into the aquatic environment. This release makes it difficult to quantify the amount of TBT in an environment, since its concentration in the water is not representative of its availability.
TBT Pollution in Hong Kong
In 1995 a study showed that 3 of the 4 species examined had sign of distorted sex organ development (imposex) and the authors inferred TBT as the cause. Another study in 2000 of 24 species found 5 species with imposex. Again the author inferred TBT as cause. In 2001 a study found the concentration required to cause imposex for one local species was as low as 0.000001 grams per liter.
In the 2004-2012 monitoring, TBT was generally not detected in marine water, river water, sewage effluent or storm water runoff samples by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). According to the EPD the levels of TBT in Hong Kong marine sediments mostly met Australia‘s sediment quality guideline for the protection of benthic organisms and were generally within the range (falling on the low-side) reported in other Asian countries, such as Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia. The levels of TBT in the biota species were low and largely comparable with the levels for biota in the Pearl River Estuary area.
The Actions of the Hong Kong Government
The production, import and export of TBT paints was already banned in HK. In 1990, the Marine Environment Protection Committee recommended that the Government eliminate the use of TBT-containing antifouling paints on smaller vessels. This was intended to be a temporary restriction until the International Maritime Organization could implement a complete ban of TBT anti-fouling agents for ships, which it did in 2001. The use of TBT in antifouling paint was banned (deregistered) in Hong Kong in 1992. But this new HK regulation seeks to now fully implement the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-Fouling Systems on Ships from 2001 which includes certification requirement for large ships in Hong Kong waters and also extends to Hong Kong registered ships anywhere in the world.
The Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-Fouling Systems on Ships came about in 2001. Mainland China implemented this Convention in 2011, but Hong Kong (as a major port city) is only now discussing this.
Despite the international bans, TBT will most likely be present in the water column and sediment for up to twenty years because of its long half-life.
Violations of the Ban
Even though its banned by some international agencies, TBT anti-fouling paints are still being used in some countries with poor regulation enforcement, such as countries in the Caribbean.
Note: the new subsidiary legislation (title: Merchant Shipping (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Ordinance (Cap. 413) Merchant Shipping (Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships) Regulation) was published in the Gazette on the 20th of March 2015, introduced into the Legislative Council on 25 March 2015. It was refered for discussion to the subcommittee on Merchant Shipping on the 10th of April 2015. In their report published on the 6th of May 2015 the subcommittee supported the subsidiary legislation. Having cleared the first hurdle.
He said that as the reefs were being covered by cement and landfill, this constituted ‘outright destruction’ of the buried coral reefs and associated habitats.
‘Coral reefs are extremely globally and locally valuable both for the biodiversity and ecosystem they create but also for the tremendous services they provide in terms of food supply, cultural heritage, erosion prevention, recreation, tourism, and habitat for myriad other organisms,’ he continued.
‘Coral reefs worldwide are under extreme threat from changing climate and from local sources of land based pollution, over fishing, and coastal construction.
‘The activities described would appear to represent an additional and severe threat to coral reef ecosystem health and sustainability.’
Photographs posted online recently show Chinese tourists posing with endangered species off the Paracel Islands, a disputed area of the South China Sea. Tourists were posing with red coral, thresher sharks and other fish according to the China News Service . All three thresher shark species have been recently listed as vulnerable to extinction by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
The photos were widely condemned by internet users on the mainland, and raised concerns among conservationists.
The authorities have since pledged to crack down on “illegal tourist activity”. Feng Wenhai, the deputy mayor of Sansha said that a task force of police, national security agencies and the coastguard would target illegal tourism boats operating in the area. Other officials and fishermen would apparently also carry out patrols to search for such boats according to Feng.
A tour operator in Hainan province who arranges trips to the Paracel Islands told the South China Morning Post that tourists who wanted to go fishing often chartered illegal boats costing much more than authorised cruises. “They need to find their own charter vessels and gather enough people as the cost is quite high, normally tens of thousands of yuan,” he said.
In 2012, amid intensifying territorial disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea, China established the city of Sansha to administer the disputed Paracels – known as Xisha in Chinese – and the disputed Spratly Islands and the Macclesfield Bank in the South China Sea. That was two years after the Chinese authorities announced plans to develop the tourism industry in the Paracels.
The first tourist cruises in 2013 were run by state-owned operators aboard the “Coconut Princess” and set sail from Sanya , the capital of Hainan Island. The four-day, three-night cruises to three of the islets cost from 4,000 yuan (HK$5,000) to 10,000 yuan. However, they are only open to mainland Chinese – foreigners, tourists from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan and those with criminal records are not allowed.
Unrelated to anything Hong Kong I came across and incredibly stupid backfiring of a ethical clothing today.
The fashion company I work for was forced by some larger customers to become certified by the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) based in Belgium. This organisation is supposed to ensure that the products produced by certified brands did not cause human slavery, child labour or unsafe working practices in the manufacturing process. Apart from paying a large sum of money to become a member of BSCI (EUR 9,000+ or USD 11,250) you also have to first join the “Free Trade Association” a body that lobbies for reduction in trade tariffs and for free trade between countries. What has all this to do with marine life? Recently the EU has been considering withdrawing the GSP+ (Generalised System of Preferences) status of the Philippines. “The “GSP+”enhanced preferences means full removal of tariffs [on certain predefined products]. These are granted to countries which ratify and implement international conventions relating to human and labour rights, environment and good governance.” (EC website)
In other words the EU has been reviewing human and labour rights as well as environment and good governance in the Philippines to determine if the benefit of freer trade should be extended to the Philippines.
Here is what it found under the heading ‘Sustainable Fisheries’:
Concerns about sustainable fishing have been raised for the Philippines. Rare Conservation found
that overfishing is still the main threat to the marine ecosystem, considering that less than 5% of the Philippine coral reefs remain in pristine health and that there are fishing grounds that contain only 10% of the fish stock present 50 years ago. For the tuna sector sustainability assurances are fundamental, therefore EUROTHON is concerned about these unsustainable practices in the Philippine fishing industry. We believe it indispensable to take into account sustainability concerns when considering a GSP+ status for the Philippines. Conventions related to the environment and to governance principles should be ratified and implemented effectively.
However the FTA mentioned above lobbied hard against this withdrawal of GSP+ as a punishment for unsustainable fishing practices and help defeat this measure! Sustainability or fishing was never mentioned in the email FTA’s newsletter to its members:
We urged the MEPs concerned to reject the motion and therefore allow the Philippines to be granted GSP+ status. This morning the vote on the motion returned 12 in favour, 26 opposed and 3 abstentions. Therefore, we can claim success in this regard.
In other words by joining BSCI to show consumers how responsible and fair we are we have funded an organisation that effectively tells Members of the European Parliament:
“Screw fish stocks in the Philippines, we want to make more money with more free trade!”
According to BSCI’s own website:
“Following dramatic growth of BSCI over the years, in 2011 FTA made the decision to clearly include sustainability as one of its pillars and therefore adopted a stronger organisational structure to further develop the growth of the association and maintain an excellent service to its members.”
Perhaps by ‘sustainability’ they meant ‘short-term profit’… That’s what the truth seems to be. A healthy dose of scepticism is warranted for any ethical, sustainability or fair trade certification or membership scheme!