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Restoring Life through A New Peace 

Statement on China's announcement of its plan to conduct coral reef rehabilitation


Recent events in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) present new opportunities albeit fraught with great challenges. Prof. Jay Batongbacal has pointed the pitfalls of allowing China’s unilateral effort of restoring the ecological damages brought about building artificial islands in the reefs the WPS.

Many scientific studies have shown the importance of the connectivity of marine fisheries to food security, especially to the Philippines’ artisanal fishers and our pelagic commercial fisheries like the galunggong. This interconnectedness of the social and ecological systems though well expounded by many scientists, has not prospered due to China’s reluctance to recognize and accept responsibility for the ecological and social consequences the reclamation and artificial island-building has brought upon the littoral states of the South China Sea. Its announcement that it will pursue restoration and rehabilitation work offers technological fixes, but is fraught with possible political consequences. As pointed out, these may solve some ecological problems but result in unilateral exercises of jurisdiction, jeopardizing the Rule of Law and disregarding the ruling of the Hague arbitral tribunal. In addition, the silence as regard access arrangements and consequences may lead the other claimants to suspect the nobility of China’s intentions.

Be that as it may, many in the marine science community find opportunities in China’s recognition of the need to begin to address some of the ecological consequences of their activities in the South China Sea. While accepting responsibility of damages was a remote possibility for China some years ago, the recent announcement of reef restoration efforts could be an opening for considering multilateral scientific cooperation anew.

There has long been a consensus among many scientists in the region that cooperation in science and technology is an important venue for cooperation.  A critical and strategic first step together which has been proposed by the Philippines in various fora, is the establishment of a multilateral marine protected areas (MPA) network. Beyond the establishment of the MPA network and the essential scientist and cooperative engagement, other steps can be explored such as the restocking of the endangered giant clams and sustainable mariculture of other high-value species, in addition to reef restoration. More comprehensive measures may be opened that help in sustaining food security through fisheries cooperation. Perhaps with these initial efforts, it will be possible to eventually address more complicated concerns like ecotourism, energy development, and marine environmental management.

In light of the ASEAN-China Declaration for a Decade of Coastal and Marine Environmental Protection signed in 2017. We in the marine scientific community are keeping an open mind and are calling upon China for more information about its intentions and plans for coral reef restoration in the SCS. Our hope is that this activity can be a sincere effort toward multilateral cooperation in marine environmental conservation and protection. Cognizant of the sensitive nature of this proposal, we further call upon China, the Government of the Philippines, and the scientific communities and governments of the littoral States of the SCS to sincerely and seriously discuss this possibility. This would make this initiative a truly cooperative and mutually beneficial activity, without prejudice to their respective positions and claims to restore and maintain the ecological balance and health of the South China Sea. This area of highest marine biodiversity in the planet which is the region’s common maritime heritage, demands nothing less. 



 


















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