China and the Deep Blue Sea
The strategic consequences of China's extravagant claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea have been a major topic of discussion in Asia. What few seem to have noticed is that the country's activities there also have serious environmental impacts.
HO CHI MINH CITY – Since December 2013, China has added more than 1,200 hectares to islands in the South China Sea. The geopolitical implications of these land reclamation efforts are well documented: The majority of the activity has taken place on the Spratly Islands, an archipelago in the waters between Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines, all of which – along with China, Taiwan, and Brunei – have competing claims to the region.
What has been less discussed is the project’s environmental impact, which borders on catastrophic. China’s activities are endangering fish stocks, threatening marine biodiversity, and creating a long-term threat to some of the world’s most spectacular sea life.
Thousands of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and other shallow-water ecosystems are rapidly being destroyed and buried as China’s leaders rush to stake their claim to the region. The land reclamation project is undermining the ecological connection between the Spratly Islands and the South China Sea, choking off the supply of nutrients upon which these ecosystems depend.