Professor John W. McManus, PhD, Director of the National Center for Coral Reef Research at the University of Miami, raised the problems of coral reef damage and overfishing and the possible solution of creating peace parks in the South China Sea (SCS) at a Mabini Dialogue hosted by the Foreign Service Institute, in partnership with the United States Embassy in Manila, on 6 September 2016 at the Benedicto Room, Carlos P. Romulo Library.
Professor McManus’s presentation, which was based on a paper cited in the final award of Philippines v. China, highlighted the extent of marine environmental damage in the SCS amid territorial disputes among the claimant-states.
First, he pointed out that island building and reinforcement, materials dredging, channel or harbor dredging, and giant clam cutter boat operations in the Spratlys and Scarborough have already destroyed at least 125 square kilometers of corals, and that China is responsible for about 98 percent of the damage. China has claimed that it constructed installations on dead corals, but scientists argued that these corals were just unhealthy and would have a chance for recovery had they not been disturbed by dredging and cutter boat operations.
Second, Professor McManus warned against depleting fisheries in the SCS. The indicators of this are the presence of fishing vessels in waters far away from the coast and the absence of marine predators even in atolls of high coral cover, such as Pag-asa Island. He believes, however, that China’s unilateral imposition of fishing bans in the SCS has worsened the problem because it encourages the other claimant-states to continue fishing in the area as compliance would mean a recognition of China’s sovereignty.
To address these problems, Professor McManus proposed the creation of peace parks in the SCS, especially in Scarborough Shoal before another artificial island were to be built. This means that the claimant-states would agree, like in the Antarctic Treaty (on which the proposal is based), to freeze their sovereignty claims and the activities supporting these claims and enter a joint resource management regime. The proposal would be feasible, so Professor McManus thinks, because it is consistent with China’s statements on its preference for bilateralism and concerns for marine environment protection and fisheries management in the SCS.