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May 24, 2019 / 18:10

Beijing threatens South China Sea marine ecology; Hanoi raises voice

Chinese fleets accompanied by motherships harvest clams by destroying coral reefs.

Spokeswoman of the Vietnamese foreign ministry Le Thi Thu Hang said that the exploiting of natural resources in the South China Sea must closely follow international laws in answering to a question on the destructive exploitation of Chinese clam harvesting fleets. 
Vietnamese Spokeswoman of Foreign Ministry Le Thi Thu Hang. Photo: Zing
Spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang. Photo: Zing
Any harvesting activities must respect sovereignty jurisdiction of related coastal countries and comply with other countries’ rules on marine ecology, the spokeswoman said in a press briefing on May 23. 

Local media Zing.vn asked about the issue following concerns about the destruction of vast swaths of coral reef by Chinese fleets that were raised by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI). 

The fleets, which typically include dozens of small fishing vessels accompanied by a handful of larger “motherships”, extract endangered giant clams, AMTI said in a report released on May 20. 

Since late 2018, satellite imagery has shown the frequent operations of these fleets at Scarborough Shoal and throughout Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracels) archipelago, including Bombay Reef.

Chinese fleets harvest clams in the sea. Photo: CSIS
Chinese fleets harvest clams in the sea. Photo: CSIS
From 2012 to 2015, Chinese clam harvesters severely damaged or destroyed at least 28 reefs across the South China Sea, Victor Robert Lee said in an article posted on The Diplomat. 

The poachers’ methods are destructive by anchoring their boats and then dragging the reinforced props of their outboard motors across the reef surface to break up the coral, allowing the clams to be easily lifted out. 

Such method has resulted devastating to marine ecology. 

In July 2016, the arbitral tribunal that ruled on a case brought against Beijing by Manila found that China had failed to fulfill its obligations under international law to protect the marine environment.

The sediment plumes are visible in images after the destructive harvesting. Photo: CSIS
The sediment plumes are visible in images after the destructive harvesting. Photo: CSIS
The tribunal’s testimony documented more than 25,000 acres of damage to shallow reef surfaces as a result of Chinese clam extraction as of 2016 (compared to roughly 15,000 acres damaged by dredging and landfill activities to create China’s artificial islands).

Chinese authorities are aware of and appear to condone the activities of these fleets.

The clam shells are transported back to Hainan Province where they fetch thousands of dollars each in a thriving market for jewelry and statuary.