Marine biologist Dr. Kent Carpenter, expert witness in the South China Sea Arbitration Case, showed evidences of the irreparable harm inflicted on the marine environment in the South China Sea during the Foreign Service Institute’s Mabini Dialogue. The forum, co-organized by the Embassy of the United States of America in Manila, was held on 21 November 2019 at the Carlos P. Romulo Library, Department of Foreign Affairs Building.
Using high resolution satellite imagery and on-site photographs, videos and eyewitness accounts, Dr. Carpenter testified on the unparalleled direct environmental damage to the biodiverse coral reefs in the South China Sea caused by China’s extensive island-building on reef flats, sedimentation from dredging activities, and irresponsible fishing practices.
Dr. Carpenter provided scientific evidence showing these findings:
- China violated key provisions under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Part XII, Articles 192 and 194 on the protection and preservation of the marine environment.
- China exploited/harmed a number of species considered threatened [under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Criteria] and/or protected [under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreements] such as corals, giant clams, elasmobranchs, groupers, and sea turtles.
- China’s dredging operations have caused high mortality of the coral reefs considered as fragile ecosystem.
- The harm to the environment in the middle of the South China Sea influenced the larval recruitment, and hence, the environmental health of reefs in the neighboring countries of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
His presentation “Environmental Damage to Coral Reefs in the South China Sea and International Arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” was well received by the guests, which included Senior Associate Justices Antonio T. Carpio and Francis H. Jardeleza, members of the diplomatic corps, officers and staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), FSI and other government agencies. During the highly interactive open forum, the following issues were raised: using pressure through diplomatic channels and international entities to ensure that the area remains open for traditional fishing and shipping; the effect of the continued sedimentation in the artificial islands; the possibility of conducting a complete genetic study to show the connectivity of West Philippine Sea and Philippine fisheries; depoliticizing the South China Sea by separating ocean governance from discussions of the Arbitration Tribunal decision; and the important role of scientists and researchers towards the achievement of peace in the disputed areas.