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PCG confirms ‘severe damage’ in Rozul Reef, Escoda Shoal corals
Published on: Tuesday, September 19, 2023
By: GMA News
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PCG confirms ‘severe damage’ in Rozul Reef, Escoda Shoal corals
Coral reef in the seabed of Escoda (Sabina) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea appears lifeless in this image taken through an underwater survey by the Philippine Coast Guard. (Courtesy of PCG)
MANILA: The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Monday confirmed “severe damage” to the marine environment and coral reef in the seabed of Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

BRP Sindangan and BRP CABRA held maritime patrols after 33 and 15 Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels were spotted in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal, respectively, from August 9 to September 11.

“The surveys conducted in Escoda Shoal revealed visible discoloration of its seabed, strongly indicating that deliberate activities may have been undertaken to modify the natural topography of its underwater terrain,” PCG spokesperson for WPS Commodore Jay Tarriela said in a statement.

According to Tarriela, the corals were possibly harvested, processed, and returned to the seabed.

“The presence of crushed corals strongly suggests a potential act of dumping, possibly involving the same dead corals that were previously processed and cleaned before being returned to the seabed,” he said.

According to Tarriela, the marine ecosystem in the two WPS features appeared lifeless, with minimal to no signs of life. He said the continued swarming of CMM vessels for alleged illegal and destructive fishing activities “may have directly caused the degradation and destruction of the marine environment in the WPS features.”

“The PCG emphasizes the importance of protecting and preserving our marine environment, which plays a crucial role in sustaining marine life and supporting local communities,” he added.

On Saturday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Command (Wescom) said there were cases of massive coral harvesting along Rozul Reef, which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Tarriela said the PCG and the Philippine Navy will work together to ensure the presence of Filipino ships in the area.

“We’re going to, hand in hand, support the Philippine Navy’s presence in these waters for us to constantly have presence there whether Philippine Navy or PCG vessel,” he said:

For possible diplomatic and legal actions, Tarriela said the PCG will reach out to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of Justice (DOJ).

The PCG will also reach out to the UP Marine Science Institute (MSI) as well as “friends and allies” about the matter, he added. Senator Francis Tolentino on Monday linked the reported removal and destruction of corals in the WPS to a possible reclamation project in the area.

“I am seeing a deeper reason for the harvest of corals. Those who are responsible for this have a different plan. It is not just simply harvesting corals,” he said.

“The destruction of corals is a prelude for reclamation. If you destroy corals, you can already do reclamation,” he added.

On Sunday, maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said there was also a possibility that the corals were being used by China as materials for decorations, ornaments, and jewelry.

Reacting to China’s alleged harvesting of coral from the WPS, Japan’s Ambassador to the Philippines Kazuhiko Koshikawa said on Twitter that this latest development was “very alarming news.”

“Our oceans are the lifeblood of our planet, & coral reefs are its colorful heartbeats. Let’s preserve & protect these vital ecosystems for generations to come,” Koshikawa said.

The Chinese Embassy Manila Twitter account responded to the Japanese envoy’s tweet, saying, “People should be alarmed by the spreading of such disinformation. Oceans are indeed the lifeblood of our planet. So stop the release of contaminated nuclear water from Fukushima.” 

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