South China Sea Reef Destroyers Want Your Money

According to a recent 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. 

Source: FT,com June 11th, 2015


Vietnam Also Guilty of Destroying Reefs in S. China Sea

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.


Sandy Cay (largest islet in the image) is small islet in the South China Sea occupied by Vietnam. it is visited by seabirds and was home to a rich marine diversity.

The director of CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (, 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.

The Long-Spined Urchin (Diadema setosum)

When I was a boy snorkelling off beaches one of the sights I best remember and one of the potential hazards was the long-spined sea – Diadema setosum. Its quite a beautiful creature with black or brown-banded spines that are extremely long and narrow. They are also hollow and contain a mild venom which -despite being painful – does not pose a serious threat to humans. And if you have ever stepped on one you’ll know the spines are fairly brittle so getting them out is tricky!

They have a black skeleton shaped like a squashed ball that houses all the organs which is called a ‘test’ and essentially that’s the body of the urchin. Get close enough and you will see a bright, orange ring around the urchin’s “anus” (which is on the top of the urchin as you look at the seabed) and some bluish spots surrounding the orange ring. Similar blue spots are arranged in linear fashion along its test.


Adult urchins weigh 35 – 80 grams and measure no more than 7 cm in test diameter and around 4 cm in height. But the spines make them look much bigger!

It is commonly found on coral reefs, but also on sand flats and in seagrass beds. Its range stretches throughout the Indo-Pacific from the Red Sea and then eastward to the Australian coast, then as far north as Japan and as far south as the southern tip of the African east coast. Interestingly it has been introduced into other localities not within its natural range. For example in 2006, two living specimens were found in waters off Turkey.
In Hong Kong it’s very common and lives all across the coast of Eastern Hong Kong as well as the southern side of Lamma and probably anywhere where there is coral or rocks with reef-type algae. Check out Hong Kong Reef Check for more info on its distribution in Hong Kong waters.

During the day they hide in a sheltered crevice and at night they leave it to graze on a variety of algal species in an area about 1 m around their crevice. Very hungry individuals may become carnivorous. They can also bite bits of the rocks and corals producing coral sand as debris.

In Hong Kong they probably spawn in summer when the water temperature reaches at least 25 degrees. But other cues, such as a full moon may affect the spawning, too. They need to live in high densities to reproduce because males and females stimulate the opposite sex to spawn by releasing chemicals into the water and that’s only possible when there lots of them in one place. Females release 10-20 million eggs at each spawning, hoping that at least a few of them will get fertilised by the sperm the males release into the water at the same time. The fertilised eggs develop into larvae that will live and drift for 40-50 days as plankton before settling on the seabed. When the larvae finally settle on a naked rock somewhere, they metamorphose – that is transform into real sea urchins. It’s a bit like caterpillars and butterflies or tadpoles and frogs. Incidentally, almost all marine invertebrates go through such a metamorphosis. Frequently they live below another urchins spines to protect themselves from enemies.


In Hong Kong the long-spines sea urchin has been suspected of causing damage to reefs (along with some other invertebrates), so that the government has at least once undertaken manual removal of these urchins from the Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park. There is ssome research into this topic going on at the Swire Institute of Marine Sciences (HKU).

My old friend the Arabian Cowrie

Mauritia arabica shell
Credit: Source= |Author=Richard Parker (

Meet an old friend of mine, the Arabian cowrie known by its scientific name as Mauritia arabica (Linnaeus, 1758). When I started my first website as a teenager this was the first animal to feature and it’s still one of my favorites.  I have always loved the fine lines and curves on the shell that resemble Arabic script and give the shell its scientific name “arabica”.

They are pretty wide-spread ranging from South Africa all the way up East Africa , the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam all the way across the Indonesian and Philippine islands and southern coast of China, down to Papua Guinea and northern Australia. It lives in shallow water near corals at cavern entrances and overhanging boulders or even under rocks where it feeds on algae during the night.
In Hong Kong if you know where to look its fairly easy to find them, too. Last weekend I was walking along a small beach in Ha Mei Wan (western side Lamma Island) south of the power station and spotted several bunches of 10 or more of them. The tide was very low which  exposed many of them to the air and huddled together in shady and moist spots of overhanging boulders near the water line.

Arabic Writing image
The inspiration for the name Arabian cowrie: the markings on the shell look a bit like Arabic writing. Source= |Date=2008-2-9 |Author=Danieliness

Another good place I have found this species is snorkeling among coral covered boulders at Shum Wan on Lamma Island. These guys like to cling to the overhangs of boulders near the sandy bottom.

I have inserted a picture from WikiCommons for this post, but for some really excellent images have a look at this site where you can see all the varieties of this little beauty from multiple angles:

PLEASE, DO NOT COLLECT LIVE SPECIMENS OR BUY THEM FROM SHOPS OR ONLINE: There are many websites that sell seashells for profit and to get a perfect shell for selling, most collectors will take live specimens. They will put them in 100% alcohol to make them swell out of their shell and die so that the shell can be stored without smelling of rotting snails. But why kill such a beautiful animal  simply to keep in a box and show off? If we all do that there won’t be any left. Sometimes  empty shells  wash up on  beaches, especially after typhoons. They might not be in perfect shape, but you will be a better person for not killing these pretty little things.