Alarming Satellite Imagery of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) show Chinese fishermen’s scarring of coral reefs, much of which happened between 2012 and late 2015.
The massive chopping of reefs which believed to be carried out by fishermen from Tanmen, a small fishing town in China’s Hainan province, used propellers mounted on small boats to be able to poach giant clam shells.
At least 28 reefs in the Spratly and Paracel Islands were affected by the massive destruction in territories disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam and China as well as Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
Giant clam shells are a luxury item and highly admired in China, a high-grade pair of the shell could sell for as much as a million yuan ($150,000).
Even though giant clam shells are known as an endangered species, and trading them are illegal under international laws and Chinese law. Fishermen’s harvesting of coral reefs in the said areas occurred in the presence of Chinese Coast Guard vessels. Some Chinese commentators have even supported the activity saying for example that “Tanmen fishermen harvesting giant clams in the South China Sea are ensuring China’s sovereignty.”
All images are credited to Victor Robert Lee. Victor Robert Lee writes on the Asia-Pacific region and is the author of the espionage novel Performance Anomalies, set in Asia. His recent field reporting from the South China Sea and East China Sea can be found in The Diplomat and elsewhere.