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South China Sea and Spratly Islands Environmental Issues:

Environmental Pollution and Protection Study

(compiled by www.spratlys.org)

1. South China Sea and Spratly Islands Environment

The South China Sea is one of the richest seas in the world in terms of marine flora and fauna; coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, fish and plants (Bateman 1999:1 See Couler, Daniel Y. 'South China Sea Fisheries: Countdown to Calamity', Contemporary Southeast Asia, vol. 17, no.4). This integrated ecoregion encompasses several hundred islands, atolls, rocks, cays, banks, and reefs in three archipelagos of the South China Sea. Coral reefs are the predominant structure of these islands and provide important habitat for many seabirds, as well as green and hawksbill sea turtles. (Terrestrial Ecoregions --South China Sea Islands (IM0148 http://www.worldwildlife.org/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/im/im0148_full.html)). The South China Sea is one of the richest fishery ground in the world, seven out of the 30 most advanced fishery states have regular fishing activities in the South China Sea.(Li Jinming: China South Sea Territorial Boundary Study). Some populations of the regional countries heavily depend on the fishery resouces. The region has a remarkable rich marine biodiversity resource.

2. Major Environmental Challenges in the South China Sea and Spratly Islands

Disputed ownership of the Spralty Islands, political instability and increasing industrialization of neighboring countries has led to serious environmental problems in the South China Sea region. Human activities such as fishing, marine transportation, offshore exploration and mining, recreation and tourisms are disturing the environment in this region.

Major marine environmental pollution problems include disruption of flora and fauna, over exploitation of natural resources(guano, turtles), over fishing, sedimentation, sewage, industrial waste, oil spills, habitat destruction, depletion of mangroves and coral reefs. The South China Sea is becoming a dumping sink for regional environmental pollution (The South China Sea:A Sink for Regional Enviornmental Pollution? http://www.abroadviewmagazine.com/archives/fall_01/south_china.html).

As a result of the growing trade and transport of raw materials, fossil fuels and commodities across the region's shipping lanes, transit vessels have been increasingly responsible for oil spills and waste dumping.

Heavy commercial fishing and illegal fishing poses serious problems in the South China Sea region(WWW South China Sea Virtual Library http://community.middlebury.edu/~scs/why.html#Regional_environmental_problems). The heavily concentrated populations along the coastlines are rapidly exploiting the living and non-living resources of the sea. A diminishing fish catch every year threatens the extensive fishing industry; many fishermen are now forced to resort to more efficient and aggressive techniques and to venture further out to new fishing grounds. Some desperate ones use illegal methods such as blast fishing and cyanide poisoning.

Increased sedimentation, especially from land development, further degrades coral habitats, while coral reefs are ravaged and plundered to provide building materials and ornamental commodities.

Military groups in the Spratlys have engaged in environmentally damaging activities such as shooting turtles and seabirds, raiding nests, and fishing with explosives. Coral habitats are threatened by pollution, over-exploitation of fish and invertebrates, and the use of explosives and poisons as fishing techniques.(Terrestrial Ecoregions --South China Sea Islands (IM0148 http://www.worldwildlife.org/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/im/im0148_full.html)).

3. Regional and International Cooperation on Environmental Protection of Spratly Islands Area

Even though the South China Sea conflict may appear irreconcilable, this should not prevent claimants from pursuing responsible and sustainable environmental policies and practices (Tom Nass, War or Peace in the South China Sea, p43).

Suggested confidence-building measures among claimant countries include joint research and development in the Spratlys. Among the suggestions to enhance the development of the Spratly Islands include the creation of a marine park; establishment of a South China Sea Institute for Marine Resources Management, conducting a joint survey and assessment of the mineral and hydrocarbon potential and implementation of maritime safety and surveillance measures (Spratly Island - Global Security http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/spratly.htm).

Seven countries participated in the United Nations Environmental Programs in the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand (UNEP/GEF South China Sea http://www.unepscs.org/): Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, China and Malaysia.

But even though there has been an increase in the number of initiatives and projects aimed at improving management and protection of marine resources, they reflected a lack of coordination and a lack of clout which is typical of the current situation in the South China Sea(Tom Nass, War or Peace in the South China Sea, p43).

4. South China Sea Environmental Protection: Role of People's Republic of China

The marine law-enforcing actions and environmental management of the South China Sea is put under the responsibility of the State Oceanic Administration South Sea branch (Marine Environmental Bulletin 1998 http://wdc-d.coi.gov.cn/english/exxcp/ehjgb/1998.htm#3).

As an important Fisheries-Habitat Management measure to preserve the reduced fishery resources in the South China Sea and sustainable development, the Chinese government imposed yearly 2-month fishing ban in the South China Sea. During the period of June 1 and August 1, since year 1999 in the South China Sea area north of 12 degrees north latitude (Fishing ban regulations during summer seasons http://www.nhyzchina.gov.cn/other/fuji1.asp). These measures have shown some effects but there is still much to improve on the enforcing these laws and regulations.

In 2002, China added two Mangroves Nature Reserve around the South China Sea. One is the Huidong Harbor Sea Turtle National Nature Reserve located at Guangdong Province; 400 ha; 22°33'N 114°54'E. National Nature Reserve. At the juncture of Daya Bay and Honghai Bay in the South China Sea (Ramsar Site 1150). This is presently the only sea turtle protected area in China. The area is under collective ownership, and the site has been delimited as a fishery protected area by local government. Another one is Zhanjiang Mangrove National Nature Reserve (Ramsar site no. 1157) located in Guangdong; 20,279 ha; 20°54'N 1108'E. National Nature Reserve. The largest mangrove forest wetland reserve in China, located along coastal areas of the Leizhou Peninsula at the southernmost tip of China between the South China Sea and the Tonkin Gulf, adjacent to Hainan Island. (China Names 14 New Ramsar Sites http://www.wetwonder.org/asp/egNEWS/list.asp?id=137 ).

In 2004, China and the Philippines signed agreements to stop illegal fishing and to explore jointly for oil in the islands.


Related Links: Marine Environment Protection Law of The People's Republic of China (1999)