Back Stories » Asia » Chinese Island Building Destroying Fragile East Sea Ecosystem: Expert

Chinese Island Building Destroying Fragile East Sea Ecosystem: Expert

While the geopolitical fracas in the East Sea has strained diplomatic relations between China and its neighbors, more than just regional stability is at stake.

Related Articles:

Vietnam To Launch Spratly Island Tours

[Photos] A Rare Glimpse Of The Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago

US Detects Chinese Artillery On Disputed Island

According to a piece published in the Guardian on Wednesday, China's dredging and land reclamation projects are threatening the sea’s fragile ecosystem that “…play[s] a key role in maintaining fish stocks throughout the region.”

The paper interviewed John McManus, Professor of Marine Biology & Fisheries at the University of Miami, who is an expert on the East Sea’s contested reefs, atolls and shoals.

McManus said that as of June, China had built 12.82 sq km of artificial land and disagreed with the country’s claims that it has “…caused only minimal, recoverable damage.”

“Dredgers sweep back and forth, creating clam shell patterns in the sand that are clearly visible by satellite. In the process, they destroy whatever lives there, including reef-building organisms, turtles and giant clams, while sending up plumes of corrosive sand and sediment that settle on surrounding reefs, killing them, McManus explains. For the many scientists who are predicting that coral reefs globally are in danger of disappearing by as early as the middle of the century due to bleaching, ocean acidification and rising seas, the reclamation is comparable to switching off an ailing patient’s life support.”

The marine biologist told the Guardian he’s hopeful that a diplomatic solution is on the horizon, one that would follow in the steps of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which has successfully prevented conflict and environmental degradation.

Tourism demand could also prove to be another way to avoid crisis. The Spartley Islands are part of the Coral Triangle “…the pinnacle of marine biodiversity on the planet,” and hold huge potential for divers.

“These are some of the most beautiful reefs I’ve ever seen with some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world,” said McManus. “And they’re covering them with sand to build airports on them.”

Partner Content