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Joint Development, Marine Environment issues

Offshore Coral Reef Damage, Overfishing, and Paths to Peace in the South China Sea

Author: John W. McManus

The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law, Volume 32, Issue 2, 2017, pages 199 – 237


Offshore coral reefs of the South China Sea are subject to complex overlapping sovereignty claims by up to six regional nations. Escalating tensions have led to widespread structural reinforcement of military outposts on many reefs via dredging and filling. Satellite images indicated at least 160 km2 of coral reef damage, including 17 km2 of essentially permanent damage from filling and channel/harbour dredging, and 143 km2 of decadal-scale damage from dredging for building materials and giant clam harvesting. This damage will exacerbate the growing regional overfishing problem. Options to lessen tensions include (1) the establishment of a Greater Spratly Islands Peace Park, and (2) the collaborative management of fisheries, the environment and mineral resources across the entire Sea. Both options require freezes on extant claims and activities in support of claims. No matter how it is achieved, regional peace would greatly enhance fisheries stability and economic growth among all claimant nations.


Figure 6 Two satellite images from the Spratly area a) Two partial atolls rising above a larger subsurface atoll, and subject to shallow dredging to extract sand for island building. The resulting plumes of sand spread out from the lagoons to other reef zones. Dredging and transport vessels are seen at right-centre (image from 4 March 2014, Google Earth, Digital Globe). b) Fiery Cross Reef with all shallow portions of the atoll now buried by sand except for a dredged harbour. Subsurface portions of a larger underlying atoll are visible on the right. Large dredging ships exceeding 100m in length are accompanied by various transport vessels (image from 4 March 2015, Google Earth, Digital Globe). Credit: John W. McManus (2017), The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law, Volume 32, Issue 2.



Table 1 Areas of damage to shallow coral reefs in the South China Sea in square kilometres The Greater Spratly Islands (GSI) includes Scarborough Reef. These are minimal values, as they are based on available satellite imagery on Google Earth Pro (GEP) as of March 2016, and a few reefs and/or new island expansions may not have been visible. Based on an open US intelligence letter to Sen. John McCain, an additional 404,686 m2 of filling for Subi Reef and Mischief Reef in the GSI, not yet in GEP imagery, has been added for PRC. Known island expansion in the Paracels in late 2015 has not been included due to a lack of area estimates and of imagery on GE. Accuracy is believed to exceed 90%. Giant clamming refers to the digging up of giant clams using propel- lers on anchored boats pulled laterally. Credit: John W. McManus (2017), The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law, Volume 32, Issue 2.



Some General Economic Factors


Trade and Investment Relationships



Tourist Potential

Coral Reef Wave Protection and Sea-Level Rise

Damage Assessment of Offshore Reefs in the South China Sea


National Aspirations and Precedents

The ‘Tied-Hands’ Dilemma

Steps toward Peace


Essentials for a Binding Code of Conduct

The Transboundary Peace Park Option


Full text of the article was originally published at http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/15718085-12341433

A copy of the paper is available at maritime archives.wordpress.com.


Related articles:

Joint Cooperation and Development in the South China Sea: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/joint-development/

Marine Environment Issues in the South China Sea: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/events-and-analyses/marine-environment-issues/


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