Troubled Waters: Marine Ecology Threats in the South China Sea


This article is based on a paper that was published on ORF at the beginning of the year. read this paper

Spread over 3.477 million km2 The South China Sea is one of the most resource-rich marine areas in the world. It is known to have 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil Reserves. It is also home to diverse ecosystems – with 3,000 species of fish and 600 species of coral reef.

More recently, the South China Sea has been in the spotlight due to China’s claims to the waters and what some refer to as Chinese military expansionism, but its impact on the environment has not been adequately explored. As one of the world busiest On the international shipping routes, the South China Sea ecosystem is falling apart amid rampant overfishing, dredging to build artificial reefs and hydraulic fracturing by China.

Although other actors in the region have also engaged in environmentally harmful activities (with the exception of dredging) in the waters, the scale of Chinese activities is immense and advanced, and has caused the most visible damage.


The fishery in the South China Sea is an important one source Food security and employment for millions of people. However, decades of unabated fishing has led to a decline in fish stocks. China has lost Half of its coastal wetlands, 57% of the mangroves and 80% of the coral reefs in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In the South China Sea, which is about 12% of the world’s catch per year are the fish stocks overturned will decrease by a third over the past 30 years and by 59% by 2045. This endangers food security in the densely populated region.

The fishery in the South China Sea is an important one source Food security and employment for millions of people. However, decades of unabated fishing has led to a decline in fish stocks. China has lost half of its coastal wetlands, 57% of mangroves and 80% of coral reefs in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ)

In order to maintain the fishing demand, China has expanded its fishing fleets penetrate into the EEZ of Argentina, Somalia and South Korea. Many small Chinese shipowners receive fuel subsidies for this. Chinese fishermen are supposed to illegal Several times corals, sea turtles, mussels, sharks, eels and other marine animals were harvested from the waters of other countries.

As fish stocks near coastal areas are depleted and the catch per unit of effort (CPUE) also rises sharply decline, Fishermen continue to go deeper into the sea and take advantage of it techniques such as the cyanide and dynamite fisheries, which lead to further damage to the marine ecosystem.

The South China Sea is one of three “Epicentres” which is said to be severely affected by climate change and rising sea temperatures. Rising sea surface temperatures will force fish stocks to migrate further north towards the East China Sea and the Sea of ​​Japan, making fishing difficult for countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines that do not have the resources to move into distant waters to fish.

Dredging and building

Since 2015, China has reclaimed land on the islands and reefs within the so-called “nine-dash” line, either by enlarging or creating new ones (such as the Subi reef on the Spratly Islands). It has constructed Ports, military facilities and airfields – especially on the Paracel and Spratly Islands. It has fighter jets, cruise missiles and a radar system stationed on Woody Island in the Paracels.

Dredging on these islands is primarily responsible for that destruction of corals and reef plains that sustain the entire marine ecosystem. In fact, 27% of the shallow reef area was made up of the seven reefs in the South China Sea permanently lost. Excavators send up feathers of sediments and corrosive sand washed back into the sea and suffocate the underwater species by blocking sunlight and oxygen. Sediments from the dredging of reef limestones reduce growth rates, cause lesions and inhibit sexual reproduction between species.

Hydraulic fracturing

China has carried out oil and gas exploration activities in the region, mainly in other countries’ EEZs. 1994, Crestone Energy Corporation, together with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), began exploration in the Wan-an-bei-21 (WAB-21 block) in the Spratly Islands, which Vietnam allegedly is on its continental shelf.


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