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TURNING POINT: Environmental Plunder

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NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 25 September) – During a patrol in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) noticed massive destruction of corals, particularly in the seabed of Rozul Reefs and Escoda Shoal, marine features within the country’s internationally-recognized exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Navy divers who carried out underwater surveys found corals crushed and broken into tiny pieces, and observed that the entire area “appeared lifeless, with minimal to no sign of life.”

By experience, such state of the coral is only made possible by blasting, expansive trawling, and massive poison fishing.

The PCG blamed the Chinese maritime militia, aka fishing vessels, for the devastation. Although they have not seen the Chinese actually doing the irresponsible act, they consider them the primary suspect because they have swarmed the area for some time and later left the place in such havoc.

For who else could swing the wrecking ball but themselves?  No other fishers dare go near the place or court the fury and bully of the Chinese Coast Guards.

Accordingly, the Chinese may have begun clearing the reef of its corals in July when their ships swarmed around the land feature, which is about 150 nautical miles from the Palawan mainland.

When the Chinese ships left the area, the AFP deployed navy divers to conduct underwater survey and were aghast by the horrible devastation they saw.

China, which has the world’s largest fishing fleet, a number of which are spread in South China, claims most of the body of water. Six other Asian governments – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – have territorial claims or maritime boundaries that overlap with China’s 10-dash territorial claims.

Commodore Jay Tarriela, the coast guard spokesman for the West Philippine Sea, reported that the seabed also showed discoloration indicating “deliberate activities” meant to modify the natural topography of the terrain.

“The presence of crushed corals strongly suggests a potential act of dumping, possibly involving the same dead corals that were previously processed and cleaned before being returned to the seabed,” Tarriela said.

If what the PCG saw underwater is part of a dumping work, then it could be a prelude to another Chinese infrastructure build-up to strengthen their 10-dash line adventure. This is something to watch and to prohibit. The idea of submitting this development to an appropriate United Nations body as early as possible may yet pay.

Moreover, the wide scale destruction of coral reefs might be a crime against humanity. This should not escape the attention of the International Criminal Court, too.

Coral reefs are the breeding and spawning grounds of fish and crustaceans. They serve as nursery for young marine lives before the migration of some to other pastures. You destroy the reefs, you undermine the food security of millions of people in coastal communities.

According to marine experts, the South China Sea is home to about 177,000 square miles of biodiverse coral reefs. There are an estimated 571 different species of coral and 3,794 different species of fish in its waters. Fish disappears when the reefs are destroyed, endangering therefore the lives of millions of fishers and people they serve in the countries within the borders of the South China Sea.

The Communist bully should be stopped from their devil-may-care plunder of the environment and in putting people in harm’s way.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

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