China says Scarborough Shoal waters ‘excellent’, dismisses Philippine concerns

July 11, 2024 - 12:04 PM
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A Filipino fisheman rows a boat during a trip near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, in Masinloc, Zambales province, Philippines, July 18, 2022. (Reuters/Lisa Marie David/File Photo)

 A Chinese report on the waters around the disputed fishing ground of Scarborough Shoal have deemed it to be of excellent quality with a healthy coral reef, months after the Philippines accused Chinese fishermen of damaging the marine environment.

State news agency Xinhua said on Wednesday that through assessments done by various government institutes, academic research centers as well as satellite surveys have shown that the environmental quality of the shoal is excellent with low levels of heavy metals, hydrocarbons and other pollutants.

Cyanide was not detected in the seawater, marine sediments and fish, and there is a low density of floating rubbish around the shoal, which China calls Huangyan Island, Xinhua said, citing a report on the findings.

The Philippines in May accused Chinese fishermen of destroying the ecological environment in Scarborough with cyanide fishing, harvesting giant clams and other protected marine creatures, as well as scarring coral reefs.

There were 109 reef-building corals found and 125 species of reef-dwelling fish species, as well as giant clams and anemones, according to the report.

The Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said in February that Chinese fishermen were using cyanide to “intentionally destroy Bajo de Masinloc to prevent Filipino fishing boats to fish in the area”, referring to the Philippine name for the shoal.

In May, the Southeast Asian nation’s national security council spokesperson said the destruction caused by Chinese fishermen in the seas around the Philippines, in particular Scarborough, was “tolerated” by Beijing.

The Philippines had called for China to open Scarborough to international scrutiny if it did not acknowledge the damage.

China and the Philippines have traded accusations of damaging the environment in the disputed region.

Earlier this week, China’s Ministry of Natural Resources said in a report that Philippines’ grounded warship on Second Thomas Shoal has “seriously damaged” the coral reef ecosystem.

The Philippines rejected the accusation.

China claims most of the South China Sea, a key conduit for $3 trillion of annual ship-borne trade, falls in its territory.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in 2016 found China’s expansive claims had no legal basis. Beijing does not accept the ruling.

—Reporting by Liz Lee and Beijing newsroom; Additional reporting by Mikhail Flores and Karen Lema in Manila; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips