Japan on Monday raised concern over the extensive maritime damage in waters frequented by Chinese militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea, but China quickly shot back by denouncing Tokyo’s release of contaminated water from its Fukushima nuclear plant.
The Japanese Embassy in Manila said the damage done to coral reefs, presumably by Chinese boats in Rozul (Iroquois) Reef was “very alarming news.”
“Our oceans are the lifeblood of our plant, and coral reefs are its colorful heartbeat. Let’s preserve and protect these vital ecosystems for generations to come,” Japan’s Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko said on his X social media account.
He was referring to a report from the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command, which said it suspected Chinese boats were behind the extensive damage done to the corrals in the West Philippine Sea.
But the Chinese Embassy did not let the Japanese ambassador’s remarks go unanswered.
Agreeing that “oceans are indeed the lifeblood of our planet,” the Chinese Embassy urged Japan to “stop the release of contaminated water from Fukushima.”
China has objected to Japan’s release of treated radioactive water into the ocean—a move that was approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
On Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard confirmed the “extensive maritime damage in areas frequented by Chinese maritime militia.”
“The PCG fully supports and confirms the report released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (WESCOM), exposing the severe damage inflicted upon the marine environment and coral reef in the seabed of Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal,” Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesman, said.
Tarriela said surveys conducted by the PCG in Escoda shoal revealed the effects of China’s underwater activities in the region.
“The surveys conducted in Escoda Shoal revealed visible discoloration of its seabed, strongly indicating that deliberate activities may have been undertaken to modify the natural topography of its underwater terrain,” Tarriela said in a statement.
“The presence of crushed corals strongly suggests a potential act of dumping, possibly involving the same dead corals that were previously processed and cleaned before being returned to the seabed,” he added.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the rampant coral harvesting in Rozul Reef in the West Philippine Sea could have dire implications for the country’s food security.
Batongbacal said he had no doubt it was China behind the reef destruction.
He noted Chinese vessels often destroy the coral reefs to extract the giant clams underneath, which the Chinese use as a substitute for ivory.
The environmental group Pamalakaya urged the government to do further damage assessment on the corals in Rozul Reef.
The group’s vice chairman for Luzon, Bobby Roldan, said it could take 20 years for a coral reef to recover.
“There is a need to identify if the swarmed area was subjected to coral harvesting, clam hunting, or any military activities that destroyed its vast coral reefs,” he said in a statement.
Batongbacal also urged the government to consider sending Navy vessels to protect the coral reefs.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri pressed China to respect the country’s coral reefs and other marine resources if they cannot respect the 2016b arbitral ruling that debunked its expansive claims in the South China Sea.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada also condemned the destruction at the Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal.
He branded as a matter of grave concern reports of deliberate, man-made alteration to the natural topography of its underwater terrain, allegedly carried out by the Chinese maritime militia in these areas.
These invaluable natural resources, Estrada said, are not only crucial to the ecological balance of the oceans but also hold immense cultural and economic significance for the Filipino people.
“We call upon the responsible authorities to also raise awareness and consciousness on maritime and archipelagic issues and concerns and uphold our national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Senator Francis Tolentino said the harvesting of coral might be a prelude to reclamation.
Tolentino, who chairs the Senate special committee on maritime and admiralty zones, also noted that the harvesting of corals is a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales continued to complain about Chinese bullying in Scarborough Shoal.
Leonardo Cuaresma, the president of the Masinloc Fisherman’s Association, said the Chinese forced them to barter their catch for a kilo of expired noodles.