Photos confirm China reclamation; experts hit reef degradation in Spratly

Photos confirm China reclamation; experts hit reef degradation in Spratly
‘EARTHMOVING ACTIVITIES’ A backhoe attached to a Chinese vessel is apparently scooping up some filling materials in a reclamation project while at the same time harvesting endangered species, giant clams.

China has reclaimed land in one of the contested reefs in the Spratly Islands, and this time, the defense department is not the only one expressing concern, but Filipino scientists as well.

They have expressed alarm over China's activities on the contested reefs in Spratly Islands, citing environmental degradation that could adversely affect the country's population, with "diseases, scarcity of resources and conflict."

The military has taken photographs of China's ongoing reclamation activity on Malvar Reef in February, with the pictures showing a backhoe attached to a Chinese vessel that, scientists said, was presumably used to gather filling materials and harvest giant clams.

On Thursday, President Benigno Aquino III said Chinese ships had been monitored moving around other reefs in the West Philippine Sea, possibly to reclaim land in Gavin Reef (Gaven Reef) and Calderon Reef (Cuarteron Reef).

Defense spokesperson Peter Galvez confirmed that China had reclaimed land on Malvar Reef (Eldad Reef), which lies northeast of Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef), where China had previously reclaimed land.

"It's called 'earthmoving activities' and there's quite a lot going on in the [West Philippine Sea] that we are monitoring," Galvez told the Inquirer on the phone.

The defense spokesperson said China's reclamation activities were especially worrisome not only because of the ongoing territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, but also because of its impact on the environment.

"The environment is an integral component of a state," so environmental issues are considered security issues, according to professor Charithie Joaquin of the National Defense College of the Philippines.

"A state must be able to protect its territory and ensure that its citizens enjoy the benefits of the natural resources within its territory," Joaquin told the Inquirer in an e-mail.

Environmental degradation could adversely affect the population, with "diseases, scarcity of resources and conflict," she added.

"A sickly population impedes economic growth and drains much-needed resources. Scarce resources, such as water or strategic minerals, could also lead to conflict or exacerbate existing tensions," Joaquin said, adding that "the consequences of nonsustainable use of natural resources could be irreversible, impacting not just the current generation but generations to come."

"Because of interconnected ecosystems, the impact oftentimes transcends borders," she added.

Scientists at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) are just as alarmed at China's relentless harvesting of giant clams, considered endangered species, and corals in the West Philippine Sea.

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