Study shows 'degrading state' of marine life in PH’s Sandy Cay 

Sand Cay.
Sand Cay.Google Maps

FILIPINO researchers and experts said on Saturday, May 4, 2024, that the marine life in Sandy Cay in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is already in a “degraded state.”

A study conducted by the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute of Biology in Sandy Cays 1, 2, 3, and 4 from March 20 to March 23 showed dead corals piled higher than a person atop live corals.

It was also found that there is low fish diversity and abundance and low coral diversity in the area.

It was also noted that most live corals in Sandy Cays 2 and 3 are small massive forms with few live digitate and branching forms in deep water.

"(The) coral rubble are piled on large live coral colonies, suggesting that those rubble are dumped on those live coral colonies," the group said.

"The pile of sand and rubble on Pag-asa Cays 1, 2, and 3 have many characteristics that are atypical of naturally formed coral or sandy barrier islands, indicating that these are possibly product of island building activities that are observed in WPS, but with some degree of uncertainty," it added.

Dr. Jonathan Anticamara from the UP Institute of Biology said the marine life in the said area could have degraded “due to a combination of disturbances from overfishing, climate change impacts, and island-building activities in WPS."

He then urged the Philippine government to be more vigilant and closely monitor the activities in Sandy Cay. 

“I think that we should be very cautious and we should be very suspicious of these activities,” he said.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela immediately put the blame to China.

"If you are going to ask me now, who is our suspect in doing these illegal small island reclamation in Cays 1,2,3,4? There's no other country that we can pinpoint, it's only the People's Republic of China," he said.

"Firstly, only China has access to these cays, which are located near their reclaimed military base on Subi Reef. Additionally, Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia are frequently observed swarming these cays," he added.

Tariella said the study can be used to support the Philippines’ case buildup against China for environmental destruction and degradation.

In September 2023, Filipino researchers found dead and crushed corals in Sandy Cay 2, which is being linked to China’s possible illegal reclamation activities in the area.

Lawyer Jay Batongbacal, head of the UP College of Law-Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, stated that the Philippines can pursue further action based on previous arbitration findings against China for its deliberate destruction of coral reefs through reclamation activities. These actions violate international law by contravening obligations to preserve and protect the marine environment.

“Iyong iba pa niyang aspeto na binabago na niya iyong facets on the ground ‘no, iba pa iyon ‘yung issue. Pero at the very least, itong destruction ng coral and deliberate alteration ng marine environment, puwedeng maging basehan iyon ng isa pang kaso na pa-follow up doon sa 2016 arbitration,” said Batongbacal.

(Changing facets on the ground is another issue. But at the very least, this destruction of coral and deliberate alteration of the marine environment, those could serve as the basis for another case to follow up on the 2016 arbitration.)

“Mahalagang punto ‘to kasi nga noong time noong arbitration, hindi pa ‘yan napapansin pero after the arbitration, iyon na. Sa tingin natin, kumbaga iyong original na formation maaring dahil doon sa sedimentation na nagawa noong Subi Reef, kasi kinalawkaw nila iyong area, kumalat iyong mga sand doon or whatever materyal na hindi nalagay doon sa Subi Reef mismo,” he added.

(This is an important point because during the time of the arbitration, that wasn't noticed, but after the arbitration, it became evident. In our view, it's like the original formation could be due to the sedimentation done on Subi Reef because they dredged the area, spreading sand or whatever material that wasn't originally there on Subi Reef itself.) (TPM/SunStar Philippines)


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