Manila, Philippines — The Philippine Coast Guard said Monday that its surveys have revealed “extensive” damage to the marine environment and coral reefs in areas frequented by Chinese maritime militias in the West Philippine Sea.
Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for West Philippine Sea matters, said that the underwater surveys of the seabeds in Rozul (Iroquois) Reef and Escoda (Sabina) Shoal showed that the marine ecosystem there “appeared lifeless, with minimal to no signs of life.”Surveys conducted in Escoda Shoal also spotted visible discoloration of its seabed, which indicates that “deliberate activities may have been undertaken to modify the natural topography of its underwater terrain.”
Tarriela added that the presence of crushed corals suggests “a potential act of dumping, possibly involving the same dead corals that were previously processed and cleaned before being returned to the seabed.”
The Coast Guard conducted surveys from August 9 to September 11, during which there were 33 Chinese maritime militia vessels in the vicinity of Rozul Reef and 15 vessels in Escoda Shoal.
Tarriela said that the findings of the PCG support and confirm the report by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command that corals in Rozul Reef had been damaged. The military suspects that Chinese vessels have been harvesting corals in the area.
The AFP also raised concern last week about the presence of Chinese fishing vessels in Rozul Reef, Escoda Shoal, and Baragatan Bank.
“The continued swarming for indiscriminate illegal and destructive fishing activities of the Chinese maritime militia in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal may have directly caused the degradation and destruction of the marine environment in the WPS features,” Tarriela said.
Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal are located within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
Beijing claims the majority of the South China Sea, including parts that Manila calls the West Philippine Sea, despite an arbitration ruling in 2016 declaring this has no legal basis.