I came across this satellite animation the other day. It shows a reef being entirely destroyed to build an industrial complex (airport, harbor, various facilities...). The animated GIF is showcased on the website of a company called Digital Globe (here is the web page cached by the Internet Archive in case they take it down).

enter image description here

I find this quite shocking given how long it takes for reefs to form (I read "100,000 and 30 million years for a fully mature reef to form"). My understanding is that lots of those reefs are actually protected.

My question (I know it's a tough one):

Is there a way to find out which reef this was and whether or not it was protected?

  • $\begingroup$ I don't know much at all about the topic, but wonder if all "reefs" are active biological growth zones, or if some are just rocks/sand. $\endgroup$ – JeopardyTempest May 18 '18 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ Likewise, especially if the area isn't heavily active, could ask if it's any different from most any land changes we make. We mine limestone that took similar times to form, many of our bigger bridges make use of small islands (perhaps similarly largely deposited by shells and such?), and we alter fertile soil and such that is the result of eons of activity. Certainly need to be careful in such, but do wonder if it's not up to the alarm that the word "reef" automatically confers. No idea, I have no judgment, just pointing out there may be more to the "alarm" of the idea. $\endgroup$ – JeopardyTempest May 18 '18 at 2:26

The caption under the image on the Digital Globe website identifies the location as Fiery Cross Reef.

Multiple sites identify what's going on as the Chinese government building an airstrip and related facilities on the site to solidify its claim to the South China Sea.

According to this 2015 BBC story:

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, resulting in overlapping claims with several other Asian nations including Vietnam and the Philippines.

That story is based on a Jane's 360 analysis of satellite images:

The 23 March images show a paved section of runway 503 m by 53 m on the northeastern side of Fiery Cross Reef, which China began to turn into an island in late 2014. Paving and ground preparation of other sections of the runway has also begun further along the island. In addition, workers have paved about 400 m by 20 m of apron.

According to the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the wider South China Sea territorial dispute between China and the Philippines: (PDF)

...China had caused severe harm to the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and the habitat of depleted, threatened, or endangered species.

But it didn't seem that the reef in question was explicitly protected by any governmental action, especially given the dispute over which country governed the territory. China does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot. Sorry I just missed the caption, I was just shocked by the picture that I couldn't see anything else I guess. Impressive research. $\endgroup$ – Max May 18 '18 at 8:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Short documentary about it: youtube.com/watch?v=luTPMHC7zHY $\endgroup$ – Max Jul 26 '18 at 22:10

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