Dredging in the Spratly Islands: Gaining land but losing reefs

Coral reefs on remote islands and atolls are less exposed to direct human stressors but are becoming increasingly vulnerable because of their development for geopolitical and military purposes. Here we document dredging and filling activities by countries in the South China Sea, where building new islands and channels on atolls is leading to considerable losses of, and perhaps irreversible damages to, unique coral reef ecosystems. Preventing similar damage across other reefs in the region necessitates the urgent development of cooperative management of disputed territories in the South China Sea. We suggest using the Antarctic Treaty as a positive precedent for such international cooperation.

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