Troubled Waters: Threats to Marine Ecology in the South China Sea
This article is based on an article that was published in ORF earlier this year. Read the paper
Spread over 3.477 million km2 the South China Sea is one of the most resource-rich marine areas in the world. It is known to have 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil reserves. It is also home to various ecosystems – with 3,000 species of fish and 600 species of coral reefs.
In recent times, the South China Sea has been in the limelight due to China’s claims to the waters and what some call Chinese military expansionism, but its environmental impact remains under-explored. As one of the busiest international shipping lanes in the world, the South China Sea ecological system is crumbling amid rampant overfishing, dredging for artificial reef construction, and water-fracturing by China. .
Although other actors in the region have also undertaken environmentally damaging activities (except dredging) in the waters, the scale of China’s activities is immense and advanced, and has caused the most degradation. more visible.
Fishing in the South China Sea is a major source of food security and employment for millions of people. However, decades of uninterrupted fishing have resulted in dwindling fish stocks. China has lost half of its coastal wetlands, 57% of mangroves and 80% of coral reefs in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In the South China Sea, which accounts for about 12% of global catches per year, fishing stocks have fallen by a third over the past 30 years and will drop a further 59% by 2045. This threatens food security in the densely populated region. .
Fishing in the South China Sea is a major source of food security and employment for millions of people. However, decades of uninterrupted fishing have resulted in dwindling fish stocks. China has lost half of its coastal wetlands, 57% of mangroves and 80% of coral reefs in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ)
In order to support fishing demand, China has extended its fishing fleets to reach as far as the EEZs of Argentina, Somalia and South Korea. Many small Chinese shipowners receive fuel subsidies for this. Chinese fishermen have reportedly illegally harvested corals, sea turtles, clams, sharks, eels and other marine life from the waters of other countries on multiple occasions.
As fish stocks near coastal areas are depleted and catch per unit effort (CPUE) also decreases sharply, fishermen are sinking deeper into the sea and using techniques such as cyanide fishing and fishing. dynamite, causing further damage to the marine ecosystem.
The South China Sea is one of three “epicenters” that would be severely affected by climate change and rising sea temperatures. Rising ocean surface temperatures will force fish stocks to migrate further south. north to the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, making fishing more difficult for countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines that lack the resources to fish in distant waters.
Dredging and construction
Since 2015, China has reclaimed land in islands and reefs within what it calls the “nine dash” line, either by increasing their size or by creating new ones (like the Subi Reef on the Spratly Islands). He built ports, military installations and airstrips, especially in the Paracel and Spratly Islands. He deployed fighter jets, cruise missiles, and a radar system to Woody Island in the Paracels.
Dredging on these islands is primarily responsible for the destruction of corals and reef flats, which support the entire marine ecosystem. In fact, 27% of the shallow reefs of the seven reefs in the South China Sea have been lost permanently. Dredges send out plumes of corrosive sediment and sand, which return to the sea and suffocate the species underwater by blocking sunlight and oxygen. Sediments from reef limestone dredging reduce growth rates, cause lesions and inhibit sexual reproduction of the species.
China has carried out oil and gas exploration activities in the region, mainly in the EEZs of other countries. In 1994, Crestone Energy Corporation, along with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), began exploration activities in Wan-an-bei-21 (block WAB-21) in the Spratly Islands, which Vietnam claimed to be in his shelf.