Report: Illegally grounded vessel of Philippines destroys ecosystem

2024-07-09 13:22:31China Daily Editor : Zhao Li ECNS App Download

Peeling paint and leaching heavy metals from the illegally grounded Philippine military vessel near China's Ren'ai Reef in the South China Sea have severely affected the quality of surrounding waters and damaged marine ecology in the region. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A Chinese scientific expedition team discovered that the illegally grounded Philippine military vessel near China's Ren'ai Reef in the South China Sea has rusted, with peeling paint and the leaching of heavy metals severely affecting the quality of surrounding waters, according to a report.

The "Report of the Illegally Grounded Military Vessel Destroying the Coral Reef Ecosystem at Ren'ai Reef", released on Monday by the Ministry of Natural Resources' South China Sea Ecological Center and the South China Sea Development Research Institute, said that personnel on the vessel are suspected of fishing, and fishing nets and garbage have led to extensive coral death.

The Philippine military vessel has been illegally grounded since 1999 near Ren'ai Reef, an uninhabited reef that is an integral part of China's Nansha Islands in the South China Sea. This not only seriously violates China's sovereignty but also causes continuous damage to the coral reef ecosystem, according to the report.

Xiong Xiaofei, chief scientist of the scientific expedition, said: "When I saw large areas of dead coral and fragmented coral reef pieces, I felt deeply saddened. Philippine fishing nets are entangled in the coral, and there is a large amount of garbage scattered around." The Philippine military vessel was run aground in the northern part of Ren'ai Reef, he added.

In April, a team of scientists conducted a comprehensive ecological environment survey at the reef.

"As a Chinese witnessing the destruction of our precious marine environment by the Philippines, my immediate reaction is that we must stop them. Such illegal grounding, illegal fishing and environmental pollution behavior are absolutely intolerable," said Xiong, who is also director of the South China Sea Ecological Center's National Field Scientific Observation Station for Nansha Coral Reefs.

Coral reefs, dubbed "underwater oases", are habitats for a large number of marine organisms and an essential component of marine ecosystems. Lyu Yihua, a researcher at the center, said that coral reefs grow slowly, and once damaged, recovery is difficult, affecting surrounding marine life.

"Many marine animals live on the coral reefs, with small fish taking the algae on its surface as food and attracting bigger fish, which add up to one of the most complicated ecosystems on Earth," Lyu said.

Based on satellite remote sensing and on-site investigations, compared with 2011, the overall coverage of reef-building coral at Ren'ai Reef has decreased by approximately 38.2 percent, with a reduction of about 87.3 percent in coverage within a radius of 400 meters around the illegally grounded Philippine military vessel.

"Global warming has led to a decrease in coral reef coverage worldwide. One main symptom of coral affected by rising temperatures is bleaching, which means they appear white. However, what we observe from the pictures and videos taken near Ren'ai Reef is coral entangled in fishing nets, with some even broken into fragments. These clear signs indicate the impact of human activities," Lyu said.

After excluding other environmental factors such as global warming, scientists attributed the degradation of the coral reefs to the fatal damage caused by the impact of the grounding of the Philippine vessel and its suppression of coral growth. Additionally, the leaching of heavy metals, the discharge of garbage and sewage by Philippine personnel, and abandoned fishing nets have caused long-term harm to coral growth, according to the report.

Xiong mentioned that in the waters near Ren'ai Reef, the expedition team also found multiple Philippine fishing boats anchored and operating, as well as three large-scale abandoned fishing nets from Philippine fishing boats.

On April 22, the team also discovered a 300-meter-long fishing net that covered and entangled coral in the eastern part of Ren'ai Reef, leading to the death and extensive fragmentation of coral.

"We observed at least four octopus fishing boats and several other ships. When we conducted environmental surveys, they would come nearby to disrupt," Xiong said. "We speculate that these fishing nets and unidentified metal objects are intentionally set by Philippine militia to attract fish."

In photos and videos captured by Xiong's team, metal equipment connected by ropes extending nearly 100 meters can be seen on the seabed around the illegally grounded Philippine military vessel, with these ropes having a destructive impact on the coral.

There are also fishing lines, rubber bands, glass bottles, iron discs and other garbage in the surrounding waters, according to the report.

"Some beverage and food packaging has Philippine text on it, indicating their origin in the Philippines, which effectively shows that this pollution comes from Philippine people," Lyu said.

"To protect Ren'ai Reef, safeguard the coral and preserve the South China Sea, the illegally grounded Philippine military vessel must be towed away immediately. Philippine fishing boats must cease operations and leave promptly, clean up the garbage and provide a safe environment for marine life," he added.


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