CHINA announced it has begun efforts to restore coral reefs damaged by its construction of artificial islands near the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea.
China’s state-run newspaper The Global Times reported ecological conservation and restoration facilities went operational in three reefs in the Spratly archipelago.
“The goal of the facilities is to strengthen ecological protection in the South China Sea and to fulfil the responsibility of protecting and restoring the ecology of territorial space, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources,” the report said.
“The restoration will mainly be done by nature, but artificially aided.”
According to the Inquirer, the three restoration facilities were situated in Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Zamora (Subi) and Panganiban (Mischief) Reefs.
In 2016, an international tribunal ruled that “China had caused severe harm to the coral reef environment,” in the massive reclamation and construction of the artificial islands.
China is making competing claims with Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei over control of the Spratly archipelago, where Beijing transformed organic reefs into artificial islands.
The man-made reefs are said to double-up as military facilities.
The South China Sea is widely considered a strategic area for the region and the world, given its position as a vital sea passage through which US$5.3 trillion worth of trade passes every year.
However, Beijing insists the facilities on the islands are now providing public services, including marine forecasts and disaster alarms to the international society and passing vessels.
“China has built three independent airports on the three reefs, which are designed to improve regional air transportation services and were put into use in 2016,” the Global Times report said.
The newly launched facilities, the Chinese ministry said, will survey and “evaluate the evolution pattern of the coral reefs” in order to identify key areas that need protection efforts.
“The methods applied will be according to the actual situation and will be explored innovatively, as the staff of the facilities set up a technological system that is suitable the ecological traits of the Nansha (Spratly) Islands.”