Sea Change in South China Sea. (Marine Science)
Tibbetts, John, Environmental Health Perspectives
The South China Sea is one of the most biologically diverse marine ecosystems in the world. That's why the seven Asian nations that border it--Cambodia, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines--agreed last year to a United Nations Environment Programme/Global Environment Facility (UNEP/GEF) project to reverse environmental degradation trends in the region. Pending final approval, the project would provide $32 million to improve environmental health in the South China Sea region. Half the $32 million is coming from the GEF, and the other half from participating countries and donors.
Rapid economic development and population growth have created significant ecological damage in coastal and marine areas of the seven South China Sea nations. "You've heard of the `East Asian Miracle,' says Alfred Duda, senior advisor on international water issues for the GEF Secretariat. "A part of the East Asian Miracle is rapid development without the environmental aspects being accounted for, and the result is downstream degradation of water and other resources."
At least 270 million people now live along the coastlines of the seven nations, and the coastal population is expected to double over the next 30 years. The primary environmental threats in the South China Sea include mangrove destruction, sewage pollution, exploitive fishing practices, coral reef degradation, and damage to sea grasses and wetlands.
Almost 70% of the region's mangrove forests have disappeared in the past 50 years due to destructive shrimp farming practices, overlogging, and increased development and tourism, says Hugh Kirkman, coordinator of marine and coastal matters for the East Asian Seas Regional Coordinating Unit, the secretariat of the Coordinating Body of the Seas of East Asia. Large-scale disappearance of coastal mangrove forests has led to sediment erosion, water pollution, and a critical loss of nursery habitat for young fish.
Moreover, an estimated 60% of coral reefs in Southeast Asia have been severely degraded or destroyed. …