The Degradation of Pag-asa Cays in the West Philippine Sea: Causes and Consequences

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The Degradation of Pag-asa Cays in the West Philippine Sea

The Pag-asa Cays in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) are currently in a degraded state, with low coral and fish diversity and abundance. This information comes from marine scientific research conducted by the Philippines. Dr. Jonathan Anticamara from the University of the Philippines Institute of Biology presented these findings during a media briefing.

Possible Causes of Degradation

According to Dr. Anticamara, the degradation of the reef biodiversity in Pag-asa Island Cays 1, 2, 3, and 4 is likely due to a combination of factors. These include overfishing, the impact of climate change, and island-building activities in various features in the WPS.

The study reveals that the Pag-asa Cays have less than 10 coral and fish species per 100 square meters, and the observed species are small in size. Additionally, Dr. Anticamara noted that the pile of sand and rubble on Pag-asa Cays 1, 2, and 3 has characteristics that are atypical of naturally formed or sandy barrier islands. These characteristics suggest that island-building activities have taken place in the WPS, although there is some uncertainty surrounding this claim.

Furthermore, the study found that Pag-asa Cays 1, 2, and 3 have steeper slopes compared to naturally formed islands and contain coral rubble that is distinct from the underwater coral rubble. Coral rubble found in the cays is not covered by algae, as is typically the case with coral rubble from the immediate vicinity underwater. Dr. Anticamara suggests that these tall and large piles of coral rubble were not naturally formed and may have been dumped in the area.

Implications and Responsible Party

The findings of the marine research assessment raise concerns about the state of the marine ecosystem in the WPS. While the report does not explicitly identify China as the responsible party, Commodore Jay Tarriela, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman for the WPS, points out that only China has access to these cays, which are located near their reclaimed military base on Subi Reef.

Commodore Tarriela emphasizes China’s history of extensive island-building in the South China Sea, disregarding the preservation of giant clams and coral reefs that have developed over decades. He states that these actions demonstrate a lack of concern for the marine ecosystem in order to maintain their presence in the region.

Commodore Tarriela also notes that China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia vessels are frequently observed swarming the Pag-asa Cays. During their exploration, no vessels from other countries were cited sailing in the vicinity waters off the cays. This observation, along with China’s restrictions on the Philippine team conducting the marine research and assessment, raises suspicions about China’s involvement in the degradation of the Pag-asa Cays.

Despite the challenges faced during the research, Dr. Anticamara emphasizes that this study is the first of its kind in the area. The findings shed light on the urgent need for conservation measures to protect the biodiversity of the Pag-asa Cays and the wider West Philippine Sea.

Source: The Manila Times

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