Satellite photos show new scarring on Scarborough Shoal from clam harvesting

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Satellite photos show new scarring on Scarborough Shoal from clam harvesting
Satelite imagery from December 2018 and March 2019 show new scarring in Scarborough Shoal brought about by clam harvesting activities of Chinese boats.
CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative / Maxar Technologies

MANILA, Philippines — Chinese clam harvesting activities in the South China Sea have left new scars on Manila-claimed Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, according to a report from a Washington-based think tank.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative released new satellite imagery showing the extent of the damage of extracting giant clams from the traditional fishing ground off the coast of Zambales.

The report said that Chinese fleets have returned to the South China Sea over the last six months after a drop in activitiy from 2016 to late 2018.

Satellite imagery from December 2018 showed that a large number of boats harvesting clams returned to Scarborough Shoal.

"A comparison of imagery from December and March also reveals new scarring on the reef from recent extraction," the report read.

Chinese boats appear to have used a new method of extracting clams from deeper reef surfaces in Scarborough Shoal.

"The typical method employed by these poachers involved anchoring their boats and then dragging the reinforced props of their outboard motors across the reef surface to break up the coral, allowing the clams to be easily lifted out," the AMTI said.

Citing a report from ABS-CBN News, the think tank noted that poachers use tubes hooked to their boats to extract clams from Scarborough Shoal.

This method, where a high-pressure water pump creates suction to remove sediment from the seabed, is a practice that local fishers describe as "very destructive."

Chinese boats also seem to be using this at Bombay Reef in the Paracel Islands, which Chinese authorities are aware of.

Satellite images from March also show large piles of extracted clams from Scarborough Shoal tagged for later collection. These were visible as white spots scattered around the area.

Satellite imagery from March appears to show large piles of extracted clams, visible as irregular white spots scattered around the reef, which were not present in previous images. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Maxar Technologies

There were no visible evidence of clam harvesting activities in the Spratly Islands but Chinese maritime militia vessels were also spotted loitering near Philippine-occupied Loaita Island (Kota Island), Loita Cay and Lankiam Cay (Panata Island).

READ: Philippines to protest Chinese presence near Kota Island — Palace

According to the AMTI report, a mothership and a number of small boats were located in the vicinity of Lankiam Cay. However, there was no evidence of new scarring in area.

"But the new methods being used to extract clams at Scarborough Shoal suggest that documenting the activities of these Chinese fleets has become more difficult," the think tank said.

Chinese boats' new method of extracting clams suggest that such activities in the South China Sea might go unnoticed.

The AMTI warned that despite the lack of visibility of China's activities in the disputed waterway, "the effects of this wanton destruction of the marine environment will be felt across the region."

Palace: Clam harvest violates Philippine sovereignty

Malacañang earlier stressed that China's continuous harvesting of giant clams in the Scarborough Shoal violate Philippine sovereignty.

"They are performing acts of ownership... If it's our territory, therefore, it is an affront to our territory and to our sovereignty," presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in April.

Following reports of China's harvesting of giant clams, the Philippines' top diplomat said the government would be taking legal action.

"We just caught them doing that recently, filed a diplomatic note, and will be taking legal action. With our legal department now," Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier tweeted.

Locsin, however, also said the Philippines and China should not go to war over clams.

“I am not going down in history as a clam defender, okay? It's a complaint; we're looking into it; but these are just f*cking food,” Locsin said on Twitter.

"If this clam issue ends up with China GRANTING us PERMISSION and even help to save the clams – thereby eroding our victory in the Hague – I will tear out your genitals with pliers. Putrefaction ang ina niyo. Just leave things alone you idiotesses," he said in a separate tweet.







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