Day 3 at The Hague: China caused 'close to catastrophic' damage to reef
Camille Diola (Philstar.com) - November 26, 2015 - 7:39pm

MANILA, Philippines — An expert witness for the Philippines's case against China on Thursday said China's reclamation and fishing activities in the West Philippine Sea caused "close to catastrophic" damage to the coral reef system.

On the third and last day of the hearing on merits at The Hague, the Philippines's legal team headed by Paul Reichler presented political geographer Clive Schofield from the University of Wollongong and biology professor Kent Carpenter from the University of Hawaii as expert witnesses deemed to have "independent" analyses "based on their areas of specialization," Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a bulletin.

"Carpenter drew the conclusion that China's actions have caused grave harm to the environment in the South China Sea due to its artificial island building activities, and that the damage to the complex coral reef ecosystem is close to catastrophic," Valte said.

International law expert Alan Boyle from Edinburgh Law School, an advocate for the Philippines, backed up Carpenter's findings and presented the extent of the damage to the marine ecosystem in the disputed sea.

Boyle argued that China's activities will continue to pose a significant threat to the marine environment of the South China Sea and all neighboring states if left unchecked.

In harming the coral reef, China's "harmful" practices such as blast fishing, cyanide fishing, harvesting of giant clams, catching of turtles and other endangered species are violations to its obligation under UNCLOS to protect and preserve the marine environment, Boyle said.

"Boyle also stressed that China, as a flag state, is responsible for its failure to prevent its fishermen and vessels from engaging in illegal fishing activities," Valte said.

Schofield, meanwhile, presented his findings on 47 features requested by the tribunal on whether maritime features claimed by China are insular, low-tide of high-tide elevations.

The findings will help determine if the rocks, shoals, reefs and islets in the South China Sea generate their own exclusive economic zones under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"Landsat images of Scarborough Shoal at high tide and low tide were also presented by Schofield," Valte said.

The hearing concluded the initial round of oral arguments for the hearing on merits. The delegation will return to the tribunal on Monday for the second round.

China's aggression detailed

Evidence and accounts of China's aggression in the disputed waters were also another issue that the Philippines's counsels brought up before the United Nations tribunal.

University of Miami law professor Bernard Oxman, also a counsel for the Philippines, argued that China "aggravated and extended" the dispute pending arbitration, Valte said.

Oxman cited incidents involving Chinese surveillance personnel blocking Filipino troops on a resupply mission to aid Marines stationed at a decrepit Philippine Navy vessel on Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal.

"Oxman stressed that China's denial of access forms part of 'a deliberate policy to physically expel the Philippines and its nationals' from the disputed features and its surrounding waters," Valte noted.

Boyle, meanwhile, returned to the floor to detail a series of near-collisions that occurred in April and May 2012 on Scarborough Shoal involving Chinese Marine Service vessels and Philippine vessels.

"These incidents, according to Boyle, displayed China's 'deliberate disregard for international law' on the safety of maritime vessels," Valte said.

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