Saturday, June 22, 2024

Environmental Degradation from China’s Artificial Island Building in South China Sea

Washington, DC – Previewing the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy last week, a Senior Administration official pointed out that this is not their China strategy but clearly identified China as “one of the challenges” that the region faces, particularly with China’s “much more assertive and aggressive behavior.”

“There are two key elements to our approach,” said the official. “First, the goal of the strategy is to strengthen the US role in the region, which we believe is very important to the region, but obviously very important to us. Second, we seek to build the collective capacity to rise to 21st-century challenges and seize opportunities, whether that has to do with climate, with Peoples’ Republic of China’s behavior.”

The Indo-Pacific strategy talks about building regional resilience to 21st-century transnational threats, including by “Reducing regional vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.” China’s activities in the Indo-Pacific are causing severe environmental degradation in the region.

China’s unilateral moves to build artificial islands in the South China Sea region, sidestepping the concerns of several other countries, is resulting in environmental degradation and impacting marine biodiversity in the Indo-Pacific. The construction of these artificial islands is in clear violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982, of which China is also a signatory.

China has formed 3,200 acres of artificial land in the South China Sea, raised an airstrip with the capacity to land fighter jets and large commercial planes, built 72 fighter-jet hangers, and commissioned 10-12 large aircraft on Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs in the Spratly Islands. It has made military installations in the Woody Island of the Paracel Islands.

This construction and militarization of the South China sea has caused a steep decline of the fishing stock in the region. In 2015, the South China Sea contributed around 12 percent of the world’s fish catch per year, but “fish stocks have declined by one-third and are expected to decrease an additional 59 percent by 2045 if current practices persist.” This has caused many coastal people to give up fishing as their occupation, threatening their livelihood and causing supplementary food security issues. Along with fishing, the fishermen are also becoming involved in poaching endangered species such as giant clams and sea turtles. The decline in the fish stock and demand for it leads to more political tensions and clashes in the South China Sea.

The dredging process required to build the artificial islands has resulted in the destruction of the coral reefs in the area. The coral reefs, which provide food and shelter, are already facing the effects of climate change. Associated coral bleaching and dynamite fishing are further destroying the coral reefs in the sea. Dredging work done to remove the sand and gravel from the coral reefs destroys the ecosystem. The corals being the spawning ground of the fish, the damage done to them would lead to reduced fish stocks, which would eventually impact the coastal population whose main livelihood is fisheries. Dredging has also led to changes in water currents. Any change in temperature and salinity
in the sea waters could cause extensive damage to the marine habitat. A high sediment concentration in the water will also block the sunlight, adversely affecting the growth of corals in the sea.

Construction of the artificial islands and militarization required constant movement of Chinese vessels, which further pollutes the relatively fragile marine environment of the region. Construction activities cause loss of natural sunlight to the coral reefs, hampering their growth. In areas with significant artificial island-building, there has been a proliferation of harmful algae blooms. The excessive nutrient loadings and algae blooms exhaust the oxygen available in the marine environment and induce acidification, which causes coral erosion. The destruction of the corals impacts the growth of the migratory fishes as they feed on the larvae of areas around the South China Sea and are known to travel to the Indian ocean, so the nations outside the region of the South China Sea are also affected. Any future human activities on the artificial islands will further cause an increase in debris and pollution and lead to further habitat destruction.

Although China insists that it is doing all these activities respecting the “nine-dash line,” claiming it to be within its marine boundaries, there is enough evidence to prove that it is not conforming to environmental standards. As the dominant power in the South China Sea, China will have to effectively participate to maintain the fish stocks in the South China Sea. But will Beijing abandon its artificial islands, which have only further aggravated the situation even as it is only looking at means to stabilize the military structures in these islands? The situation appears bleak in terms of maintaining the marine biodiversity in the South China Sea.

Author profile
Pia Sherman

Pia Sherman is a freelance writer. Views expressed are solely of the author.

- Advertisement -spot_img
- Advertisement -spot_img
- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest news

Global Nuclear Arsenals Expand Amid Rising Geopolitical Tensions

Washington, DC - The global landscape of nuclear armament saw significant developments in 2023, with the nine nuclear-armed states—United...

What is a Heat Dome? A Meteorologist Explains the Weather Phenomenon Baking the Eastern US

Heat domes, like the one sending temperatures soaring from the Midwest to New England and across the eastern U.S....

Impact of CPEC 2.0 on Gilgit Baltistan (POJK)

Washington, DC - Despite financial and security concerns, Pakistan and China have launched CPEC 2.0 with a renewed emphasis...

‘Born in the USA’ Turns 40 − and Still Remains one of Bruce Springsteen’s Most Misunderstood Songs

Elton John, Adele and R.E.M. did it. So did Rihanna and the Rolling Stones. If Donald Trump tried to...
- Advertisement -spot_img
- Advertisement -spot_img

High Interest Rates Aren’t Going Away Anytime Soon – a Business Economist Explains Why

Christopher Decker, University of Nebraska Omaha The Federal Reserve held interest rates steady at its May 1, 2024, policy meeting,...

Tibetan Advocacy and Hope: Conversation with Ven. Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende

Venerable Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende, member of the 17th Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile from the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism...

Must read

Echoes of Cochin: The Enduring Legacy of Kerala’s Jewish Community

The Cochin Jews: A Historical Overview The Cochin Jews, a...