Chinese Artificial Islands: Politics & The Environment by Maxim Sindall
The South China Sea is the world's most disputed sea, due to the fact that it holds 11 billion barrels of oil, 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 10% of the world's fisheries and holds 30% of the global shipping trade. These qualities make it appealing to the five countries inhabiting the area. These countries all have different claims, based on the United Nations’ (UN) Law Of The Sea article, which gives them all resources up to 200 miles from their coast. This has created a bitter dispute, as under this law, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and China claim the same territory as their neighbours. These claims are superseded by China who has claimed 90% of the South China Sea for themselves. The Chinese government argues that the sea is a historical part of China. They restored this claim in 1945 when the Japanese fell in World War 2. The power vacuum in the region gave China the opportunity to create the 9 dash line. The 9 dash line encompasses much of the sea (90%) and ignores UN law. As the 9 dash line was already created before the creation of The Law Of The Sea article, China kept its pre existing claim.
This is where the Spratly islands come in. They are located in the center of the South China sea and are claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, and notably China. If these islands were claimed by a single country and recognized by the surrounding countries, this would expand their country's economic exclusion zone. China has claimed all of the islands and started building artificial islands to establish their control of the area. However the environmental impact of this is highly questionable. In the late 1980’s it was discovered that the atolls on the Spratly Islands were key spawning grounds for fish. These spawning areas replenished the entire South China Sea and kept the fishing industry alive. These small islands and atolls also have one of the most biodiverse maritime areas, holding 571 known coral species. China’s artificial islands are having a detrimental impact on the fisheries and on the biodiversity of the area. These aggressive expansions have caused scientists to worry about permanent damages to the reefs and the potential future issues, possibly the collapse of the ecosystem. One expert even said “You’re talking about destroying the equivalent of seven worldwide natural heritage areas.” The Chinese create islands by placing large amounts of sand, expelled by 300 foot container ships, in the biodiverse atolls and reefs. This sand coats the reef in silt and sand which blocks the corals access to the sun. Additionally, the added sand could be raising the existing sea floor by 30 feet. This would change the rate of growth of red algae with is essential to calcification and sedimentations of the reef. Already 15.5 square kilometers of space has been taken away from the sea and converted into land. While that number may seem insignificant, that area has already affected 10% of the overall shallow reef area in the Spratly islands. If these actions in the South China continue, expect a downfall of the fish population and a possible collapse of many coral and fish species. This will in turn impact not just the South China Sea, these actions might just change the world, politically and environmentally. This information was provided by Yale 360, talking about ‘The Rising Environmental Toll Of China’s Offshore Island Grab’ and a video from Vox titled, ‘Why China Is Building Islands In The South China Sea.’