Think Tank (1/2024)
Dr Collin Koh with (L-R) Gregory Poling, Harrison Prétat, and Dr Tabitha Grace, authors of the report
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Launch of CSIS Report on “Deep Blue Scars: Environmental Threats to the South China Sea”
12 Jan 2024

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) partnered with RSIS to launch its latest report on the South China Sea in Singapore. Titled “Deep Blue Scars: Environmental Threats to the South China Sea,” the report touches on environmental threats caused by human activities including seabed dredging for landfill and island construction, as well as illegal clam harvesting.

The authors from CSIS were present at the launch, which was held on 12 January 2024. Gregory Poling, senior fellow and director of the Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS; Harrison Prétat, deputy director and fellow with the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS; and Tabitha Grace Mallory, Founder and CEO of the China Ocean Institute and Affiliate Professor of the University of Washington, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies; spoke about the report in depth at the launch. They highlighted the use of environmentally-debilitating techniques to conduct rapid landfill work, by firstly China and which was also subsequently emulated by Vietnam. These activities were believed to have accelerated the damage to the South China Sea (SCS) environment, based on available remote-sensing information. Illegal clam harvesting, according to the authors, created significant seabed scarring which would take a long time for the ecosystem to recover.

The CSIS report aimed to flag these environmental challenges and, as the authors emphasised, sought to amplify the seriousness of this problem that warrants immediate regional action. That said, during the discussion that ensued after the presentation, teething issues concerning the lack of mutual confidence and trust between the SCS rivals, inadequate national regulatory mechanisms and legislations that govern marine environmental protection, lack of marine spatial planning tools, and questions concerning enforcement of necessary protective measures at the national and regional levels, would pose hurdles to a concerted multilateral action to safeguard the SCS environment. The authors acknowledged that further research is necessary to more comprehensively document and assess the evolving impact of human activities on the SCS environment. They also urged all parties – including those in academia and the policy circle – to delve beyond the strategic and military dimensions and pay more attention to this critical aspect that has a major bearing on human security.

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