CHINA’S increasing demand for food will deplete marine resources in the West Philippine Sea and wreak havoc on the country’s fish supply in the near future, an expert has warned.
The loss is not just on account of China’s rapid devouring of Philippine fish. Its massive reclamation and artificial island building has destroyed vital coral reefs that provide habitat to marine resources. According to estimates by marine experts, the Philippines is losing at least $647.5 million (P33.67 billion) annually from the marine resources—within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—that were destroyed by China.
The figure is expected to grow as China’s population is anticipated to expand exponentially due to its two-child policy, driving demand for food including fisheries products further in the future.
“Definitely China has a huge demand for fishery products [because] fish has become like [an object of] prestige for them. If you eat fish you are rich,” Institute for Marine Affairs and Law of the Sea Executive Director Jay Batongbacal said.
The losses are also a conservative estimate due to lack of proper value estimation on the worth of the country’s marine ecosystems.
However, UP Marine Science Institute Deputy Director for Research Deo Onda said a scientific journal article published in 2012 estimated the global average worth of a coral reef based on the services that it provides to consumers.
The study, titled “Global estimates of the value of ecosystems and their services in monetary units” said a hectare of coral reef provides an annual income of $350,000 due to its potential services.
These potential services include provisioning (food, raw materials, genetic resources), regulating (climate regulation, etc.), habitat (genetic diversity), cultural (aesthetic, recreation, etc).
The paper screened over 320 publications covering over 300 case study locations with an approximate 1,350 value estimates to come up with the average global value of a coral reef.
Given these estimates—multiplied by at least 1,850 hectares of coral reefs destroyed and reclaimed by China in the past five years to establish military control in the area—one comes up with a sum of $647.5 million of potential revenues lost annually.
“The exact damage would be far greater than that estimate since China has been building more artificial islands. And we are just counting the visible areas and not including the less visible yet,” Batongbacal said in a press conference on Wednesday.
Citing published reports, Batongbacal said China has destroyed 550 hectares of coral reef in the West Philippine Sea and another at least 1,300 hectares in Spratly Islands.
Onda explained that the average potential income from the Philippines’s coral reefs could be even greater than the globally recognized $350,000 per hectare since they are more diverse than those in the western part of the world.
For one, Onda pointed out, there are more coral reef species found within the country’s water territories than those in Western countries.
Batongbacal warned that if the Philippines continues to allow China to freely poach in its EEZ then it could bid goodbye to its water resources in a few years.
The country’s fish catch has been declining for the past decade while that of China has been steadily increasing. This, he pointed out, shows that China is getting more of the bulk of the catch in the West Philippine Sea.
Furthermore, Batongbacal said China’s fishing fleet is capable of dwarfing the country’s annual total fish catch with its modern industrialized vessels.
Citing published reports on China’s fishing fleet, he said a single vessel could catch about 12 metric tons per day.
The reported 270 Chinese fishing boats present at Subi and Mischief Reefs would have a cumulative catch of 3,240 MT per day or 1.2 million MT per year, he added.
That annual figure is already equivalent to about 50 percent to 100 percent of the total estimated catch in the Spratly Islands.
“The depletion of our fish stocks would be faster if poaching wouldn’t be restricted, with the West Philippine Sea being the first victim followed by our internal waters. Because they would follow where the fishes are—that is why it is important to stop them now,” he said.
“They are already exploiting Scarborough Shoal,” Batongbacal said, adding that he no longer hoped that “we will have Scarborough Shoal in five years if China would not stop [its illegal activites there].”
Citing rough estimates by Filipino fishermen, Onda said the fish catch from Scarborough Shoal has declined by at least 40 percent year-on-year. Batongbacal estimates that the West Philippine Sea accounts for about 10 percent to 20 percent of the country’s fish catch.
Onda said it is true that there’s a higher catch in municipal waters per hectarage basis, but the Philippine EEZ provides more volume since it is way bigger than the total area of inland waters.
“They key here is exclusive access. And not only exclusive access to our EEZ but also capacity to access the area. We have to empower our fishermen to be able to use sustainably our own waters,” he said.
Image credits: Gregg Yan and Oceana