Philippines urged to monitor China’s coral reef rehab in Spratlys

Chinese fishermen harvesting giant clams in Scarborough Shoal destroyed coral reefs in the process.

MANILA, Jan 10, 2019, Philstar. The Philippine government should monitor Beijing’s coral reef rehabilitation project on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo Party-list) said, reported the Philippine Star.

Last week, China’s Ministry of Natural Resources announced that the country has installed facilities that would “protect and recover” coral reefs damaged by its massive island building activities in the contested waterway.

Alejano said China’s initiative to rehabilitate the coral system is laudable but he pointed out that a territorial conflict exists in the region.

“Our government must intervene in this project because we are one of the claimants of the territories in the South China Sea. This rehab project could be just one of the many ways of China’s occupation,” Alejano said in a statement.

The opposition lawmaker also stressed that China’s rehabilitation project is not merely an environmental issue as the process of rehabilitating coral reefs must also be accessible to all claimants in the South China Sea.

Unilaterally rehabilitating the disputed sea’s ecosystem would deny other claimants, including the Philippines, of the right to cooperate, he added.

“After all, environmental conservation is not only a unilateral concern, but a multi-party one. The unilateral actions of China show a clear disrespect to the Philippines as claimant of the territory,” Alejano said.

Gregory Poling, director of Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, earlier pointed out that the South China Morning Post (SCMP) did not interview any marine scientist when it published the story on Beijing’s restoration project of coral reefs damaged by its massive land reclamation activities.

“Why didn’t [SCMP] interview a single marine scientist for this story? You can’t restore a reef buried under hundreds of acres of sand and concrete,” Poling said on Twitter.

The SCMP merely reported that China’s Ministry of Natural Resources “announced surveys to identify more areas where coral would be protected and restored involving a ‘natural recovery’ approach to help the reefs repair themselves complemented by artificial methods, and techniques developed especially for the Spratlys.”

The rehabilitation project covers China’s “big three” islands — Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs — which are also being claimed by the Philippines. Beijing had installed missile systems and electronic jammers on the islands, which had been transformed into military outposts.

In July 2016, a United Nations-backed tribunal ruled that China’s construction of artificial islands “violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and habitat of depleted, threatened, or endangered species.”

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