[Coral-List] Marine scientists say Chinese island reclamation is destroying coral reefs in South China Sea

John McManus jmcmanus at rsmas.miami.edu
Tue Jun 9 12:24:13 EDT 2015

The loss of about 2000 acres (about 8 sq km) of reef area in 18 months constitutes the most rapid rate of permanent loss of coral reef area in human history. Additionally, it is happening to some of the most biodiverse reefs in the world.  

I emphasize 'permanent' in that burying a part or all of a coral reef is an actual loss of coral reef area, as opposed to the usual situation we see wherein coral cover declines and a reef loses much of its related ecosystem function, but there is normally a hope for some level of recovery under proper management.  

All near-surface portions of Fiery Cross Reef are now completely covered. It is looking like the same may happen to about 25 km of circumference around the lagoon of Mischief Reef. I urge everyone to look at Fiery Cross Reef on Google Earth and compare the old and new imagery. There are seven of these reefs with various levels of island construction. There has been some localized dredging and filling around some of the holdings of five of the claimant countries, but the reefs with actual island building going on are Fiery Cross, Cuarteron, Hughes, Johnson South, Mischief, Gaven and Subi. That estimate of 2000 acres includes only the islands themselves. Many times that much area of reef has been killed via the dredging for sand from lagoons around the area, and the dredging of ship channels. The dredging has decimated existing lagoon ecosystems, and the sand plumes have done untold damage to back-reef, crest and fore-reef zones. Of perhaps more concern in the long-run is the fact that such dredging is likely to keep happening to support maintaining the new islands and channels. The new islands are going to bring in large numbers of inhabitants, along with their chronic problems of pollution and over-fishing. 

Despite the overfishing and occasional destructive fishing in shallow waters of some of the reefs, as well as the systematic extirpations of giant clams, overall these reefs were incredibly healthy and productive. You can see the photos from the better managed Taiwanese holding of Taiping (Itu Aba) Island in a great new free book in English and kanji at http://www.cpami.gov.tw/english/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18667&Itemid=3. 

This immense loss to the world is extremely depressing. However, there are hundreds of other reefs in the Spratly Group still in great shape. They must be spared. In a recent article, Edgardo Gomez asks where the big NGOs are now that they are needed. Why such a dead silence? 

This will not stop until the majority of people in countries around the South China Sea fully understand what they and their children are losing.  



-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Tracy Gill - NOAA Federal
Sent: Monday, June 08, 2015 2:36 PM
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Subject: [Coral-List] Marine scientists say Chinese island reclamation is destroying coral reefs in South China Sea

Marine scientists say Chinese island reclamation is destroying coral reefs in South China Sea


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