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 (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.
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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.

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.

Satellite Image Shows Reef Destruction in the South China Sea

A report from US information company IHS has confirmed earlier reports that China has been dredging to create an island about 3,000 metres long and 200-300 metres wide on Fiery Cross Reef in the contested Spratly Islands. The reef, called Yongshu in Chinese, was previously underwater.

In the space of three months China has turned the reef into an island by dredging soil and sand from the seabed and dumping it on top. The island, shown in a satellite image obtained by IHS, will be large enough to accommodate China’s first airstrip in the Spratly Islands when completed.

“The land reclamation at Fiery Cross is the fourth such project undertaken by China in the Spratly Islands in the last 12-18 months and by far the largest in scope,” the report said.

A harbour is also under construction to the east of the reef, which appears to have the capacity for tankers and naval warships.

The Spratly Islands are claimed by China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei. All but Brunei have asserted their own claims by building structures on reefs and shoals.

State-run Global Times said the reclamation projects had been undertaken to improve living conditions for soldiers stationed in the South China Sea, quoting an anonymous commander. The commander said land reclamation was necessary because soldiers had been forced to patrol in sea water as their stations occupied most of the available space on reefs and were too confined.

Boo-hoo, the station is too cramped, so let’s destroy a coral reef by smothering it with sediment. Clearly no one mentioned the environmental damage and loss of fisheries to the military. All this while countries like Australia are trying to save reefs…its sad day for planet Earth again.

The Silent Destruction of a South China Sea Coral Reef

In an article published today (21/10/2014) the SCMP details how a disputed reef in the South China Sea has been transformed into the largest island in the Spratlys. (“From reef to biggest island in Spratlys, and China’s not done yet at Fiery Cross“). Coral reefs are the predominant structure of these islands; the Spratly group contains over 600 coral reefs in total.

Fiery Cross – the reef – is China strategically important to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and it has been using reclamation to build it into an island to bolster its claim with a vital outpost for the Chinese military and civilian commercial activities to be based there. Fiery Cross Reef is about 740 nautical miles south of the Chinese mainland, but closer to the Vietnamese coast.

IMG_7475.PNG

Last week, Taiwan’s top intelligence official, publicly said that Beijing was conducting seven construction projects in the South China Sea.

Wang Hanling, an expert on the South China Sea from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Fiery Cross Reef now nearly covered about 1 sq km and reclamation work would probably continue.

Over the weekend, Chinese website Guancha.cn published a report saying Fiery Cross Reef had been upgraded to an island. It cited unnamed sources and satellite images from DigitalGlobe taken between late September and October 16. It said it was now bigger than Taiping island. However, Jin from Renmin University said it was unlikely the reef would be renamed an island, since it “would involve international law and would be too complicated”.

But among all the discussion of the strategic, military and geographical questions, one issue that should concern us all was completely omitted. The People’s Republic of China has clandestinely destroyed a reef in the South China Sea by dumping sand and rubble onto it and obliterating coral and marine life. All this has only now come out and assessing the damage to get a true picture will be almost impossible because according to China it isn’t doing anything and it’s virtually guaranteed they will not let any foreign scientists visit Fiery Cross. So while the West is doing its best to protect, conserve and rehabilitate reefs, China has just secretly destroyed one. This is the real news item that should have been the focus of the article.

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.

Update on Sea Turtle Poachers Seizure by Philippines 8th May 2014

Philippine police seized a Chinese fishing vessel and detained its 11 crew members in South China Sea waters, claimed by both countries, in the latest escalation of their bitter maritime row.
National police spokesman Reuben Sindac said yesterday the 15-tonne boat was intercepted while fishing off Half Moon Shoal, west of Palawan, in what he said are Philippine waters.

The crew will be further charged with violating anti-poaching laws after a huge haul of 500 turtles was found on board, Sindac added.

But Beijing angrily responded that it has “undisputable sovereignty” over the Half Moon Shoal, which it calls the Ban Yue Reef, and urged the Philippines to “stop taking further provocative action.”

“Relevant authorities from China have arrived at the scene,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “We ask the Philippines side to give their explanation and deal with this case properly,” Hua added.

“We ask the Philippines side to release the vessel and the crew.”

Lying around 111 kilometers west of Palawan, the shoal is located on the eastern edge of the Spratlys and is believed to harbor vast oil and gas resources.

Sindac said the vessel was intercepted along with a Filipino-manned fishing boat that also had a catch of around 40 protected turtles.

Half of the turtles aboard the two boats were already dead.

The Filipino fishermen were also detained.

It was not clear whether the two boats were working together when they were caught.

Source: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 8/5/2014