‘It appears lifeless’: Severe marine destruction at Escoda Shoal also linked to Chinese swarming

LIFELESS - 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)

Aside from Rozul (Iroquios) Reef, marine environment in the seabed of Escoda (Sabina) Shoal was also severely damaged to the extent that it appeared “lifeless,” amid the continued swarming of Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for WPS, revealed this on Monday, Sept. 18, as he confirmed a report earlier released by the Palawan-based Western Command (WesCom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that CMM vessels may have been responsible in the massive destruction of coral reef in WPS features.

“The Philippine Coast Guard fully supports and confirms the report released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (WESCOM), exposing the severe damage inflicted upon the marine environment and coral reef in the seabed of Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal,” Tarriela said.

Both Escoda Shoal and the Rozul Reef are located in the WPS. Escoda Shoal is an atoll located northeast of Kalayaan Island Group (Spratly Islands) in Palawan while Rozul Reef is located at the southern end of Recto (Reed) Bank in the northeastern portion of Kalayaan Island Group.

According to Tarriela, the PCG monitored an average of 33 CMM vessels in the vicinity waters of Rozul Reef and 15 CMM vessels in Escoda Shoal from Aug. 9 to Sept. 11.

“During the same period, the PCG launched missions to conduct extensive underwater surveys of the seabed in both Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal. The results of these surveys showed that the marine ecosystem in the subject WPS features appeared lifeless, with minimal to no signs of life,” he said.

“Moreover, 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,” he continued.

The PCG official said the presence of crushed corals in Escoda Shoal “strongly” suggested a “potential act of dumping” using the same dead corals that were processed and cleaned by the CMM vessels.

“The continued swarming for an indiscriminate illegal and destructive fishing activities of the Chinese maritime militia in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal may have directly caused the degradation and destruction of the marine environment in the WPS features,” Tarriela said.

Prior to this, WesCom commander Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos had said that they have observed a resurgence of CMM vessels in Rozul Reef in August, a month after the drove away around 50 vessels in the area.

Philippine Navy divers then conducted an underwater survey in Rozul Reef and found out that the coral reef in its seabed was already gone.

Tarriela emphasized the importance of protecting and preserving the marine environment in the WPS as he said it plays a crucial role in sustaining marine life and supporting local communities in the area.