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Thursday, September 17, 2009

More Facts About Spratlys Island



The Spratly Islands are a group of more than 650 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea between the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Vietnam. They comprise less than five square kilometers of land area, spread over more than 400,000 square kilometers of sea. The Spratlys, as they are called, are part of the three archipelagos of the South China Sea, comprising more than 30,000 islands and reefs and which so complicates geography, 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. There are no native islanders but there are rich fishing grounds and initial surveys indicate the islands may contain significant oil and gas.
About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Geographic and economic overview

• Coordinates: 8°38′N 111°55′E8.633°N 111.917°ECoordinates: 8°38′N 111°55′E8.633°N 111.917°E (Spratly Island)
• Area (land): less than 5 km²
o note: includes 148 or so islets, coral reefs, and seamounts scattered over an area of nearly 410,000 km² of the central South China Sea
• Coastline: 926 km
Climate: tropical
Terrain: flat
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: South China Sea (0 m)
highest point: unnamed location on Southwest Cay (4 m)
Natural hazards: serious maritime hazards because of numerous banks, reefs and shoals

The islands are most likely volcanic in origin. The islands themselves contain almost no significant arable land and have no indigenous inhabitants, although twenty of the islands, including Itu Aba, the largest, are considered to be able to sustain human life. Natural resources include fish, guano, undetermined oil and natural gas potential. Economic activity includes commercial fishing, shipping, and tourism. The proximity to nearby oil- and gas-producing sedimentary basins suggests the potential for oil and gas deposits, but the region is largely unexplored, and there are no reliable estimates of potential reserves. Commercial exploitation of hydrocarbons has yet to be developed. The Spratly Islands have at least three fishing ports, several docks and harbors, at least three heliports, at least four territorial rigging style outposts (especially due west of Namyit), and six to eight airstrips. These islands are strategically located near several primary shipping lanes.


Ecology


Coral reefs
Coral reefs are the predominant structure of these islands; the Spratly group contains over 600 coral reefs in total.


Vegetation
Little vegetation grows on these islands, which are subject to intense monsoons. Larger islands are capable of supporting tropical forest, scrub forest, coastal scrub and grasses. It is difficult to determine which species have been introduced or cultivated by humans. Itu Aba Island was reportedly covered with shrubs, coconut, and mangroves in 1938; pineapple was also cultivated here when it was profitable. Other accounts mention papaya, banana, palm, and even white peach trees growing on one island. A few islands which have been developed as small tourist resorts have had soil and trees brought in and planted where there were none.


Wildlife

The islands that do have vegetation provide important habitats for many seabirds and sea turtles.
Both the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas, endangered) and the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata, critically endangered) formerly occurred in numbers sufficient to support commercial exploitation. These species reportedly continue to nest even on islands inhabited by military personnel (such as Pratas) to some extent, though it is believed that their numbers have declined.

Seabirds use the islands for resting, breeding, and wintering sites. Species found here include Streaked Shearwater (Calonectris Leucomelas), Brown Booby (Sula Leucogaster), Red-Footed Booby (S. sula), Great Crested Tern (Sterna bergii), and White Tern (Gygis Alba). Little information is available regarding current status of the islands’ seabird populations, though it is likely that birds may divert nesting site to smaller, less disturbed islands. Bird eggs cover the majority of Nan Tzu Chiao, a small island in the eastern Danger Zone.

Unfortunately, this ecoregion is still largely a mystery. Scientists have focused their research on the marine environment, while the ecology of the terrestrial environment remains relatively unknown.


Ecological hazards
Political instability, tourism and the increasing industrialization of neighboring countries has led to serious disruption of native flora and fauna, over-exploitation of natural resources, and environmental pollution. Disruption of nesting areas by human activity or by introduced animals, such as dogs, has reduced the number of turtles nesting on the islands. Sea turtles are also slaughtered for food on a significant scale. The sea turtle is a symbol of longevity in Chinese customs and at times the military personnel are given orders to protect the turtles.

Heavy commercial fishing in the region incurs other problems. Though it has been outlawed, fishing methods continue to include the use of bottom trawls fitted with chain rollers. In addition, during a recent routine patrol, more than 200 kg of KCn solution was confiscated from fishermen who had been using it for fish poisoning. These activities have a devastating impact on local marine organisms and coral reefs.

Some interest has been taken in regard to conservation of these island ecosystems. J.W. McManus has explored the possibilities of designating portions of the Spratly Islands as a marine park. One region of the Spratly Archipelago, called Truong Sa, was proposed by Vietnam’s Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (MOSTE) as a future protected area. The 160 km2 site is currently managed by the Khanh Hoa Provincial People’s Committee of Vietnam.

Military groups in the Spratlys have engaged in environmentally damaging activities such as shooting turtles and seabirds, raiding nests, and fishing with explosives. The collection of rare medicinal plants, collecting of wood and hunting for the wildlife trade are common threats to the biodiversity of the entire region, including these islands. Coral habitats are threatened by pollution, over-exploitation of fish and invertebrates, and the use of explosives and poisons as fishing techniques.Spr
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