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China rates Beijing-controlled Scarborough Shoal healthy in second reef report

In World
July 10, 2024
China rates Beijing-controlled Scarborough Shoal healthy in second reef report

A Chinese investigation into the marine conditions at Scarborough Shoal has found the area in good health – in stark contrast to an earlier evaluation this week of Second Thomas Shoal, another flashpoint between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea.

According to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, a “comprehensive” examination of the ecological environment surrounding Scarborough Shoal – known as Hanyang Island in China – determined that the environmental quality of its waters was “excellent”.

Scarborough Shoal is claimed by both Beijing and Manila and has been effectively controlled by China since an intense stand-off in 2012. Filipino fishermen have been barred by the Chinese coastguard from entering the lagoon ever since.

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The latest investigation’s results were unveiled on Wednesday at a briefing by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. The investigating team was formed from three of the ministry’s agencies.

The team conducted a “systematic on-site investigation” from May to June, covering seawater quality, biological quality and marine debris, as well as coral communities. Satellite remote sensing technology was also used in the analysis, CCTV said.

Residues of pollutants were found to be below the evaluation standard limits, the coral reef ecosystem was “healthy”, and the diversity of reef-building coral species was said to be “rich”.

According to the CCTV report, this is the first time a Chinese investigation team has determined pollution levels of marine debris around Scarborough Shoal and the status of reef-dwelling fish there.

The positive findings contrasted with a Ministry of Natural Resources report released on Monday, which said a grounded Philippine warship at another disputed shoal had “seriously damaged the diversity, stability and sustainability of the coral reef ecosystems”.

The earlier report found the BRP Sierra Madre – grounded in 1999 by the Philippines to serve as an outpost in the disputed waters – had caused serious harm at Second Thomas Shoal, called Renai Reef in China and Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines, and must be removed to stop the damage.

Chief scientist Xiong Xiaofei from the South China Sea Ecological Centre, which operates under the ministry’s auspices, told state media that “only by eliminating the source of pollution can we avoid continuing and cumulative harm to the Renai Reef … ecosystem”.

The Chinese assessment – based on satellite sensing technology and on-the-spot studies from April to June – found severe destruction of coral cover, heavy metal contamination, active phosphate and oil pollution at Second Thomas Shoal.

Contaminants, which included human waste such as fishing nets, were found especially in the waters surrounding the Sierra Madre, according to the report.

Manila on Tuesday rejected the accusation, accusing “Chinese experts” of trying to sow disinformation and calling for an independent third-party marine scientific assessment of the causes of coral reef damage in the South China Sea.

Responding to the Philippine statement on Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian called for Manila to withdraw its grounded warship, saying it was the “main factor” leading to the destruction of the coral reef ecosystem around Second Thomas Shoal.

The Philippines has previously said that it plans to file a formal complaint against the Chinese government, citing environmental damage to coral in several areas of the South China Sea.

The Chinese reports have landed at a time of heightened tensions between the two countries in the South China Sea, which is claimed almost in its entirety by Beijing. There are also overlapping claims by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Beijing and Manila have clashed several times in the past year over Philippine resupply efforts to the Sierra Madre outpost.

One of the most serious confrontations occurred on June 17, when a Chinese coastguard vessel rammed a Philippine resupply ship, injuring eight Philippine sailors, including one who lost his thumb, according to Manila.

China has dismissed the Philippines’ account, countering that the Philippine vessels attacked Chinese boats.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2024 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2024. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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