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An environmental crime

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The Philippine Coast Guard recently reported that its surveys have revealed “extensive” damage to the marine environment and coral reefs in areas frequented by Chinese maritime militia in the West Philippine Sea.

Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesman for West Philippine Sea matters, said that the underwater surveys of the sea beds in Rozul (Iroquois) Reef and Escoda (Sabina) Shoal showed that the marine ecosystem there “appeared lifeless, with minimal to no sign of life.”

Surveys conducted in Escoda Shoal also spotted visible discoloration of its sea bed, which indicates that
“deliberate activities may have been undertaken to modify the natural topography of its underwater terrain.”

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

The Coast Guard conducted surveys from August 9 to September 11, during which there were 33 Chinese maritime militia vessels in the vicinity of Rozul Reef and 15 in Escoda Shoal.

Tarriela said the findings of the PCG support and confirm the report by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command that corals in Rozul Reef had been damaged. The military suspects that Chinese vessels have been harvesting corals in the area.

Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal are located within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, while China claims the majority of the South China sea, despite an arbitration ruling in 2016 declaring its claims have no legal basis.

Aside from this serious breach of territorial integrity of the Philippine EEZ, what the Chinese maritime militia has been doing, would surely constitute an international environmental crime. Its indiscriminate exploitation and destruction of precious marine resources, along with its destructive island building activities in one of the richest and most biodiverse waters of the planet, needs to be stopped by the international community and perhaps this time, another case needs to be filed against them, if not by the Philippines that is the most affected in terms of destroyed natural resources, but also by the rest of Southeast Asia who will all suffer the consequences of an environmental collapse in the South China Sea.

The Philippines should continue gathering the evidence and mustering the international support to stop this international environmental crime that is being ruthlessly carried out right at our doorstep.*

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