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Crushed corals dumped near Escoda Shoal in WPS, similar to Sandy Cay — PCG

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Friday said crushed corals were dumped near Escoda (Sabina) Shoal similar to those observed in Sandy Cay, which Filipino marine biologists had said may be due to island-building activities in the West Philippine Sea.

This developed as PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela, who had blamed China for the "degradation" of Sandy Cay, reported Friday the changes observed at Escoda Shoal located some 75 nautical miles off the coast of the main Palawan island.

Tarriela said the PCG now launches rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) to inspect the low tide elevation (LTE) "for any dumped crushed corals."

"After more than three weeks of monitoring, the PCG has discovered that the physical characteristics of the LTE surrounding Escoda/Sabina Shoal are similar to those of the sandy cays," Tarriela said on X (formerly Twitter).

"It has been observed that crushed corals were dumped and it is highly likely that the maritime features were altered," Tarriela added.

The deployment of RHIBs, Tarriela said, is now "standard operating procedure" due to the results of scientific research by experts from the University of the Philippines (UP), led by Dr. Jonathan Anticamara.

During a news forum last Saturday, Anticamara and his team reported the "low coral and fish diversity and abundance" in Sandy Cay. They said that the characteristics of the pile of sand and rubble on Pag-asa Cays 1, 2, and 3 indicate that these were "possibly product of island building activities that are observed in WPS."

NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya had warned that the dumping of crushed corals may be targeted to "create a new low tide feature in the WPS" to reverse the country's 2016 arbitral win against China.

In September 2023, dead and crushed corals were also found in Sandy Cay 2. Experts said this was a common procedure done by China before it starts reclamation activities.

Guarding the shoal

Tarriela said the BRP Teresa Magbanua has been deployed at the Escoda Shoal for past 25 days upon the instruction of PCG Commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan.

The PCG's action in the area, Tarriela said, is "in response to the presence of Chinese Maritime Militia near Escoda Shoal."

In March, several Filipino marine scientists were injured after they were reportedly harassed by a Chinese Navy helicopter at Sandy Cay. The helicopter flew low over the coalescing sand bars and the scientists for ten minutes.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.

Parts of the waters within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone have been renamed the West Philippine Sea.

In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague said China's claims had no legal basis. Beijing has rejected the decision. — VDV, GMA Integrated News