Philippines claims China’s reclamation activities threaten marine environment

MANILA, Nov. 27 (PNA) — The Philippines on Thursday criticized China for its reclamation activities in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which has posed a significant threat to the marine environment.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said Professor Kent Carpenter assessed the damage of China’s island building activities to the coral reef eco-system as “close to catastrophic”.

“Carpenter drew the conclusion that China’s actions have caused grave harm to the environment in the South China Sea due to its artificial island building activities, and that the damage to the complex coral reef ecosystem is close to catastrophic,” Valte said in a bulletin issued from The Hague, Netherlands on Thursday.

Carpenter was one of two expert witnesses presented by the Philippines to the Arbitral Tribunal on the third day of the hearings on the Philippines’ case against China.

Carpenter is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

The other expert witness was Clive Schofield, current director of Research and Security at the University of Wollongong in Australia.

The Philippines’ principal counsel, Paul Reichler, described Carpenter and Schofield as independent experts who were presented to give their own analyses based on their areas of specialization.

Valte said Professor Schofield presented his findings on 47 features requested by the Tribunal to be studied to determine whether they are insular, low tide, or high tide elevations. The Australian expert also presented Landsat images of the Scarborough Shoal at high tide and low tide.

During the same hearing, Valte said Professor Alan Boyle presented to the Tribunal the damage China has done to the marine ecosystem, more specifically, to the complex ecosystem of coral reefs, biological diversity, and living resources in the South China Sea.

“Boyle stated that, if unchecked, China’s activities will continue to pose a significant threat to the marine environment of the South China Sea and of all the states which border the sea,” said the Palace official.

She said Boyle argued that China has violated its obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to protect and preserve the marine environment.

He cited instances of harmful fishing practices, such as blast fishing, cyanide fishing, harvesting of giant clams, catching of turtles, and other endangered species.

Valte said Boyle also stressed that China, as a flag state, is responsible for its failure to prevent its fishermen and vessels from engaging in illegal fishing activities.

She said Boyle detailed to the Tribunal the series of near-collisions that occurred in April and May 2012 at the Scarborough Shoal involving Chinese Marine Service vessels and Philippine vessels.

“These incidents, according to Boyle, displayed China’s ‘deliberate disregard for international law’ on the safety of maritime vessels,” Valte said.

She said Professor Bernard Oxman meanwhile presented to the Tribunal other actions by China that aggravated and extended the dispute, even pending arbitration.

“Oxman cited instances where the Philippines was blocked by China from entering Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin) for a resupply mission,” said Valte.

“Oxman stressed that China’s denial of access forms part of ‘a deliberate policy to physically expel the Philippines and its nationals’ from the disputed features and its surrounding waters,” she further said.

Thursday’s hearing marked the end of the First Round of Arguments for the Hearing on the Merits. The Second Round will begin on November 30. (PNA)