Scientific American weighs in on Spratly Islands row, cites Ph experience with ecosystem management

The Philippines continues to be in a juggling act with regard to its diplomatic and military rows with its neighbouring countries in the region — it has an insurgency spilling over into Malaysian Sabah in the south, diplomatic rows over fishing rights and military jurisdiction over its northern seas, and an age-old commitment to uphold claims over islands and waters at its northwest frontier. The Spratly Islands where Manila maintains its biggest military encampment, specifically remain the more thorny issue among these.

The Spratly Islands are a disputed group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays, and islands in the South China Sea. The archipelago lies off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia (Sabah), and southern Vietnam. They contain less than 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles) of land area spread over more than 425,000 square kilometers (164,100 square miles) of sea. The Spratlys are one of 3 archipelagos of the South China Sea which comprise more than 30,000 islands and reefs and which complicate governance and economics in that region of Southeast Asia. Such small and remote islands have little economic value in themselves but are important in establishing international boundaries. No native islanders inhabit the islands which offer rich fishing grounds and may contain significant oil and natural gas reserves.

About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan (ROC), Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Brunei has also claimed an exclusive economic zone in the southeastern part of the Spratlys encompassing just one area of small islands on Louisa Reef. This has led to escalating tensions between numerous countries over the disputed status of the islands.

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Much of the loudest debate around these claims and counter-claims have been within political, military, and economic domains. But a recent report published by Scientific American puts forth a compelling case from a different perspective…

Some argue that the Philippines should take sovereignty over Spratly Islands because it has had the most success and experience with maintaining marine ecosystems, plus the islands are well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Philippines has almost 10% of the world’s marine protected areas (MPAs), which were created in response to the country’s rampant cyanide and dynamite fishing in the 1970s and 1980s (Yan 2012). No one can pass through, fish or dive in MPAs except to conduct scientific research. With more than 500 MPA sites within Philippine waters, the government as well as the military is highly experienced in dealing with marine ecosystems and management. Furthermore, the MPAs have shown signs of great success in conservation.


Indeed, if we are to take seriously the lip service dished out by the world’s politicians around the topic of the planet’s ecological health, one would think this would be as strong a case for Philippine sovereignity over the Spratlys as any else. Certainly a case built upon management of the ecology in the area puts petty disputes over territory, fishing, and fuel supply in better perspective. Territorial claims after all, are driven primarily by a country’s energy needs (food and fuel) which, in turn, are a function of population and how much said population consumes per capita. It is easy to connect the dots from there and come up with the hard questions around why such conflicts between nations and governments exist to begin with.

The Scientific American report also seemed critical of the overall position the United States government is taking on this matter which, it is widely believed, stems from the increasingly untenable economic dependence on China America finds itself hopelessly entangled in.

Unfortunately, the United States has refused to take sides on the matter. The United States Department of State released a press statement stating that they are closely monitoring the issue but will not take a position on the matter (Ventrell 2012). This almost ignores the Philippines involvement in the dispute and shows that despite the Philippines’ history of cooperation with the United States, they are doing nothing to support their strongest Southeast Asian allies.

It is in cases like this where the line between the bullshit and lip service of governments and the politicians who lead them, and the realities and sense espoused by the analytically disinterested communities of the scientifically-inclined becomes so spectacularly stark. It is an enduring tragedy of humanity that leadership is in the hands of the earlier rather than the latter. This is particularly relevant today, as the scale at which our species is able to both indadvertently and consciously change its environment increases exponentially with every passing decade.

[NB: Parts of this article were lifted from the article “Spratly Islands” in a manner compliant to the terms stipulated in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License that governs usage of content made available in this site.]

6 Replies to “Scientific American weighs in on Spratly Islands row, cites Ph experience with ecosystem management”

  1. Maybe the best thing for the environment is that the political huffing and puffing continues and stalemate prevails otherwise any ‘winner’ would undoubtedly put greed before conservation. i wouldnt trust any of them.

  2. China is going to take over the Spratley Is and they have already laid out how they’re going to do it. I see no reason why the US needs to get involved in a small skirmish with another super power, how can the US fix that? China laid claim centuries ago to that area. Now it’s time to remind those that you shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds because we were stationed here but paying the 77 million plus yearly and the rates were going up, we decided after the volcano damage to call it quits and so we were voted out…lol, well not really we didn’t want to pay anymore so Ph Senators voted us out, when it comes to environment or defining who owns what, it falls under diplomacy, we have better things to do, N Korea doesn’t charge us anything to use the base there, so people got greedy here and so at a very great loss we decided to leave a runway, housing, many buildings, clubs, pool, stores and infrastructure to Philippine government, we also just got beaten up running into one of the reefs and yes it was totally our fault but the response still shows the animosity and dislike of the US military in this area so unless there’s a huge loss of life an Alli doesn’t really need to get involved in corral and sea life and claims to a sea that is very narrow at times and China laid claim centuries ago, huge mess to avoid at all costs, when there was no international law on the sea space between countries. Subic bay was left at a huge loss for both countries, people sell their souls and sometimes their morals and really they should live with that.. you can’t have your cake and it too, time for a diet because there’s no way anyone here wants to fight China, so get ready for China to make it a tourist attraction, that’s also in their plans.

  3. This “Scientific American” article is just a bunch of shit. From the ‘some argue”(who?) to the comment about the Philippines Gov’t. and Military have a track record of protecting the MPA’s(according to who,the RP gov’t.?BWAHAHAHAH!)to the part “No one can enter these MPA’s.”.(WTF? LOL!!!any chinese fisherman in a dinghy can do it, so who is “S.A.” kidding?) is just absolute Bull-$#!T!
    The final paragraph of the essay is so over-written(WTF does “spectacularly stark” even mean?)to the point of wondering if it is a graduate school term paper failing to impress its professor? OR an agreement with the fraudulent BULL-$#!T written in the “S.A.” article? OR Sarcasm? OR what?
    It doesn’t matter anyway. The foreign powers that be have already decided what the Philippines is going to be getting out of the sea(and there is not a fuckin thing they can do about it if they do not like it.) and all that is left to do is watch the already agreed upon scenario play itself out. Sure, a lot of R.P. Senators/pols will start their “public” bitching and moaning but that is all just part of the theatrics(“We are being robbed”. oh please.), and who is not sick of them doing that without even so much as a straight face any more?

  4. Understand the sentiment of the piece but the mediocrity of maintaining a blog which isn’t carbon zero while pretending to care about the environment while linking to Yahoo instead of the original scientific journal link while pretending to care about the primacy of scientists over politicians and showing that you just found the article in some news aggregator (maybe from opening a browser with lots of toolbars?) and didn’t actually intentionally searched for it and aren’t actually mindful of the scientific community makes me chuckle.

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