PCG to tap marine experts to inspect WPS reefs supposedly damaged by China

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 18) – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) will bring in experts from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) on its next underwater survey to inspect the damaged coral reefs in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal, which the agency suspects China is responsible for.

PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Jay Tarriela told reporters on Monday that from Aug. 9 to Sept. 11, the agency monitored 33 Chinese Maritime Militia vessels (CMMVs) in Rozul Reef, also known as Iroquois Reef, and another 15 in Escoda Shoal, or the Sabina Shoal.

These are the same areas in the West Philippine Sea where the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the National Security Council observed damaged, possibly harvested corals, as well as a near total absence of marine life forms. The PCG assessment confirmed the two agencies’ findings.

READ: PH military suspects China of harvesting corals in Rozul Reef

Aside from CMMVs, no other foreign vessels were seen in these areas over the given time period, the PCG said.

“That’s the reason why we intend to carry out another maritime patrol and underwater survey sa mga susunod na araw [in the following days],” Tarriela said.

“But this time we will be coordinating with UP-MSI to bring onboard yung kanilang mga [their] marine scientist[s] to understand this particular incident wherein namatay ang ating mga corals and then may mga dinump na corals na seemingly nilinis, crinush, and then dinump [our corals died, and then corals that were seemingly cleaned and crushed were dumped in these areas].”

UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea executive director Jay Batongbacal told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Monday that he was sure Beijing was behind the damaged reefs.

He said that in the Hainan province of China, there is a very large industry which profits greatly from the harvesting of raw materials from corals reefs, which are used to create decorations, jewelry, and trinkets.

Furthermore, he said continued damage to these marine biomes could lead to a collapse of fisheries in the West Philippine Sea, resulting in a major blow to food security as the destroyed area contributes 27% to 30% of the country’s capture fisheries.