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National Scientist Edgardo D. Gomez, NRCP president, delivers his paper “Destroyed Reefs, Vanishing Clams: Marine Imperialism” at the sixth annual South China Sea conference organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, on 12 July 2016.

National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) President and National Scientist Edgardo D. Gomez, along with other international marine experts, spoke against the depletion of species and destruction of reefs in the West Philippine Sea and the wider South China Sea as a result of increased fishing and military activities by the People Republic China (PRC). The statements were compiled and published January 2017 in a report dubbed “In the Wake of Arbitration” by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a non-profit think tank based in Washington, DC.

NS Gomez lamented the decimation (“extirpation”) of giant clams (Tridacna gigas) in the South China Sea due to the poaching of civilian Chinese vessels for the ornamental trade. The waters may now be devoid of all living true giant clams, according to the marine scientist.

Known in the Philippines as “taklobo,” the giant clam is one of the most vulnerable species of clams and the largest bivalve mollusk whose shell length can reach up to four feet.

The emeritus professor and founding director of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) bemoaned the destructive activities of Chinese fishers and gatherers. In contrast, local marine scientists have taken great strides to restock giant clam species and protect coral reefs.

The illegal activities are opposite to the efforts to restock giant clams throughout the country and its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), he indicated.

Now, only local marine protected areas and dive resorts in metropolitan Philippines—areas under the watch of NS Gomez and local marine scientists—have cohorts of healthy stock of the true giant clams. The scientist also feared that the recent depletion of giant clams in the South China Sea have effectively shrunk the geographic distribution of the true giant clam and could exacerbate the species’ “vulnerable” status to “endangered” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Further, an estimated 14.54 square kilometers of coral reef in the contested Spratlys and the Paracels were destroyed because of the increased civilian and military activities of surrounding countries. NS Gomez said that PRC’s frenzied dredging and building of its artificial islands and military airstrips in the last two years account for over 95 percent of the converted reef area.

He explained that since corals do not grow on above-water features like airstrips, the damage is permanent.

Coral reefs are the most valuable natural ecosystems in the world with ecological services valued at about $350,000 per hectare per year, which translates to millions of dollars when multiplied by the reclaimed or covered area, explained the scientist, citing a landmark research published by the journal Nature. He also underscored recent research citing the significance of the South China Sea environs to the health and biodiversity of the Coral Triangle, which is a renowned marine habitat in the western Pacific Ocean that biologists like NS Gomez call “a marine paradise” for its sheer biodiversity and the quantity of fish and coral species. Housing three-fourths of the world’s coral species and more than a third of reef fish species, the Coral Triangle is a noted area for joint marine and oceanographic research under close monitoring by Southeast Asian countries.

Moreover, NS Gomez criticized PRC’s denial or equivocation on the negative impacts of its activities in the contested waters in his paper “Destroyed Reefs, Vanishing Clams: Marine Imperialism.”

“They explain that consultations were done prior to the construction activities and the best construction methods were employed. Further they observe that coral reef ecosystem recovery methods are available nationally and internationally, ‘proving that as long as one takes effective measures, coral reef communities can be restored.’ However, this statement is irrelevant once you bury corals in sand or concrete!”

NS Gomez was among the 11 experts from 10 countries invited by CSIS to provide various perspectives—political, legal, military, and environmental—on the contested region during its sixth annual South China Sea conference 12 July 2016. According to its website, the CSIS seeks to provide “strategic insights and bipartisan policy solutions to help decision-makers chart a course toward a better world.” The conference coincided with the release of the results of the Philippine’s case against China’s claims on the area in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands last year.

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