Satellite imagery shows that between 2012 to 2016, more than 500 hectares of the Scarborough Shoal had been destroyed by Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea, a state university professor said in a forum organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute.
“Massive coral destruction in the West Philippine Sea has been ongoing for quite some time,” University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea Director Dr. Jay Batongbacal said.
“The thing is, due to the arbitration having come out under a ‘friendly’ administration in 2016, China has never really been called to account for the destruction it caused with this massive island-building spree and then all subsequent destructive fishing activities that it allowed to continue thereafter,” he explained.
Batongbacal said there is a need to quantify and valuate the total amount of losses due to these coral destructions.
Meanwhile, working with other countries on “calibrated” economic sanctions on China could be a better option than realigning confidential and intelligence funds to agencies focused on the West Philippine Sea, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said on Saturday.
Earlier, the Philippine Coast Guard vowed to “do whatever it takes” to remove any more floating barriers installed by China at disputed reefs in the West Philippine Sea.
“Another reason for coral destruction is the maritime militia anchoring on pristine reefs. You do not anchor on coral reefs in massive numbers without causing some kind of destruction,” Batongbacal added.
“The mere presence of your vessel can already destroy these sensitive reefs. The pollution that they produce while they’re there for months on end will also affect the water quality, and corals are very sensitive to water quality,” he said.
University Technology of Sydney Associate Professor Dr. Michael Fabinyi, who is leading a project on coral reef restoration and coral reef governance in the Philippines, said there is a significant opportunity for data collection “and a lot more to be known” about the condition of coral reefs in the WPS.
Australia is currently conducting joint coral reef restoration and monitoring projects with the Philippines in Pangasinan, Zambales, and Palawan.
Acting Australian Ambassador Dr. Moya Collett said Australia is willing to help the Philippines assess the coral destruction in the West Philippine Sea.
The forum in Makati City gathered national security and diplomatic leaders and marine science experts to discuss the current state of biodiversity and marine environment in the West Philippine Sea, following reports of massive damage to the corals in the Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal.