The plight of South China Seas coral reefs…

The South China Seas dispute is an ongoing affair, where involved countries such as China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines and Viet Nam have all staked claims in this area. Sadly, it has now come to light that the actions of various country parties have gravely impacted the coral reef ecosystems of South China Seas.

Marine scientists have mentioned that the reefs of South China Seas (also known as the Spratly Islands) are highly productive, and rich in marine biodiversity. Unfortunately with a rich resource reserve, these disputed waters are frequently overfished and exploited, particularly the intensive extraction of the true giant clam, Tridacna gigas. More recently, the large scale reclamations carried out by the Chinese has been blamed for the extensive damage of the coral reefs. Reports indicate that almost 2000 acres (about 8 sq km) of reef area were lost in 18 months, which constitutes the most rapid rate of permanent loss of coral reef area in human history. Collectively, the effects of all impacts on the reefs have compromised reef productivity.

Vanishing giant clams…

Emeritus Professor Edgardo Gomez said in this interview, “Essentially all of the large giant clams in the South China Sea, have been fished out by Chinese fishers. And because clams have a rather low recruitment rate, unless some very positive action is undertaken by the countries around the South China Sea, I don’t think the giant clams are going to return on their own.” These systematic extirpations of giant clams are of great concern if people do not start to change their habits and demands.

Exemplary protection of marine areas…

Fortunately, there are still plenty of reefs within the Spratly Islands that are still in a healthy state. An example of a well-managed reef is the Taiping Island (Itu Aba) held by the Taiwanese. They also recently published a book about the rich biodiversity found in these reefs. There is still time to protect the remaining pristine reefs.

What can we do about it?

As a marine biologist, we can only voice out our concerns at the rapid loss of coral reef areas and describe the potential consequences of these losses. It is critical that we, as scientists, communicate our knowledge to public and policy-makers, in hope that they can push ahead with decisions. The situation of the South China Seas, unfortunately, has been a long-standing one, and I remember that Singapore played the mediating role of gathering all the regional scientists to share and discuss their thoughts about the South China Seas. As scientists, we all want access to these pristine reefs but given that access, can we do more for the reefs? Can we be the bridge of communication between politicians?

I am concern that we have lost so much reef (and giant clams!) in such a short time. How much more losses do people need before we understand what we are actually losing? 😦