Pristine Coral Reefs Destroyed by ‘Great Wall of Sand’

China is creating a ‘great wall of sand’ in the South China Sea, according to the Daily Mail.

The latest huge land mass is four square kilometres in size and was created by dumping sand on live coral reefs, damaging local ecosystems.

But this is just one of several artificial islands China has been creating in the region – and the exact purpose of them is unknown.  

 

 

The large expanses of sand and concrete – the latest being Johnson Reef – are being built among the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

China is creating the area by using dredging vessels to dig up sediment from the sea, and then dumping it on subermeged coral reefs to make islands.

China has supposedly been carrying out the land reclamation in order to build airstrips and other structures in the region.

  

Five islands in total have been built in this way, and two more are in development. 

Richard Dodge of the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center, said: ‘The activities described would appear to clearly both be greatly exceeding corals and coral reefs’ ability to cope and survive the excess sediments and turbidity.’

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.’

  

Robert Nicholls, a Professor of Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton, added: ‘It is clearly destroying [coral reefs] at the local scale of the land claim and the environment.

‘In the bigger scheme of things it is harder to be precise as these are small areas in a large area of reef.’

China is creating land by pumping sand on to live coral reefs – some of them submerged – and paving over them with concrete. It has now created over 4 square kilometers of artificial landmass.

The region is known for its beautiful natural islands, but ‘in sharp contrast, these actions are are creating a great wall of sand with dredges and bulldozers over the course of months.

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Illegal Tourism & Poaching of Endangered Species in the Paracel Islands

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 Crescent Group of the Paracel Islands (Image: WikiCommons)
The Crescent Group of the Paracel Islands (Image: WikiCommons)

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.

Given recent Japanese accusation of red coral poaching in disputed waters against China’s government-subsidized fishing fleet and the high-profile arrest and conviction of Chinese fisherman poaching close to 500 endangered sea turtles in Philippine waters, the statement by Feng Wenhai has almost no credibility. How after all can the government control illegal fishing and poaching by tourists when it can’t even stop its own government-funded fishing fleet from raping the sea and ignoring all rules?

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.

Map showing the poisition of the Paracels Islands in the South China Sea (Image: WikiCommons)
Map showing the position of the Paracels Islands in the South China Sea (Image: WikiCommons)

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.

Off-topic: Sustainability in Fashion: Screw fish stocks, let’s make money!

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!

Sea Turtle Poachers Convicted

A court in the Philippines has found nine Chinese fishermen guilty of poaching and catching an endangered species in the South China Sea.

As reported in an earlier post, police found more than 500 sea turtles on their boat when the fishermen were intercepted at sea in May.

They were stopped at a shoal near the Spratlys, a chain of islands which both China and the Philippines claim.

The fishermens’ arrests has strained relations between both countries. China has demanded their release.

Philippines authorities had caught 11 fishermen on the boat, but later released two of them as they were found to be minors.

The remaining nine were each fined $100,000 (HKD 780,000) for poaching and USD 8,800 (HKD 68,650) for taking protected wildlife by a court in Palawan province on Monday.

If the fishermen cannot pay the fine, they will have to serve a jail sentence and can only be freed in May 2015.

Original Source: BBC News

Update 108 Sea Turtles Released Back Into The Wild

Philippine authorities on Monday filed charges against nine of the 11 Chinese fishermen apprehended last week for allegedly poaching hundreds of endangered sea turtles in a shoal near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Prosecutor Allen Ross Rodriguez said that the Chinese fishermen face as many as 20 years in prison if convicted for gathering “critically endangered” species, such as the Hawksbill turtle.

Two Chinese suspects were released because they are minors, he said. In addition, five Filipino fishermen accused of loading the marine turtles onto the Chinese vessel were charged with the illegal gathering and trafficking of endangered species.

Philippines authorities said they found 489 sea turtles—108 of them alive and 381 dead—on the two boats. The authorities inventoried the turtles Saturday after the two fishing vessels arrived in Puerto Princesa, having been towed by maritime police for five days, Mr. Rodriguez said.

The live turtles were immediately released to sea after they were photographed to assist in the prosecution of the Chinese and Filipino fishermen.

Seventeen of the live turtles were Hawksbill while 91 were Green Sea turtles. The Hawksbill is a critically endangered species of marine turtle, the poaching of which could trigger, upon a conviction, 12 to 20 years of imprisonment or a fine of $2,290 per act. Philippine environmental laws allow bail for suspects accused of poaching if they are foreigners.

Associated Press video from YouTube (12th May 2014)

The Philippines is a hotbed for poaching. Five of the seven species of sea turtles around the world can be found in the Philippines because of the plentiful sea-grass beds.

Aside from the Hawskbill and Green Sea turtles, other species found in the country include the Olive Ridley, the Loggerhead and the Leatherback, the other marine-turtle species most threatened with extinction.

Sea turtles are valued for their eggs and meat—used in Chinese and other East Asian cuisine—and in Chinese medicine. The Japanese are a major buyer of sea turtle shells, known as bekko, which are used for ornaments and jewelry.

It takes decades before a sea turtle reaches maturity, and only then will females breed and return to the beaches where they hatched to lay their eggs. Predators, loss of habitat and other environmental threats mean as few as one in every 1,000 hatchlings reaches adulthood.

(Source Wall Street Journal Online, 12th May 2014)

Hong Kong has one of the last remaining nesting populations of endangered green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in southern China. According to a recent study (Ng et al., 2014) the number of nesting turtles observed in Hong Kong was relatively low compared with other sites in southern China, but the the number of eggs laid and intervals between nesting is comparable with that of other nearby sites. The nesting turtles are thought to be the survivors of a small population that was reduced by historical harvesting of eggs in Hong Kong. DNA analysis showed that populations in Hong Kong and Lanyu, Taiwan, are genetically different which means the two populations are somehow isolated from each other. So losing either of these populations would cause a loss of genetic diversity for this species in the region, which is bad news. By tracking local nesting turtles by with satellite tags their movements and feeding habitats in Vietnam and Hainan Island were discovered. The research urges to international cooperation and consistent dedicated research for the conservation and recovery of green turtles in the region.

Needless to say the poaching and slaughter of turtles in the region severely threatens an already endangered species.