Sad times for conservation
These are sad times for the conservation movement, with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) rejecting our proposal to study the possibility of setting up a marine peace park in the disputed South China Sea.
We presented our motion, titled “Conservation in the South China Sea” and supported by 11 cosponsors, during the 6th World Conservation Congress held in Hawaii last Sept. 1-10. But to our dismay, the biggest environmental union in the world rejected it.
We had cited a study made by Dr. John McManus and Dr. Ed Gomez, which was presented during the International Coral Reef Symposium held at the East West Center in Hawaii last June 16-26, and which stated that an ecological study in the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean is in the making.
The study of McManus and Gomez reported that the coral colonies in the South China Sea are five times more diverse than any other on the planet, and that 80 percent of the coral colonies in the Spratly Islands have been damaged and destroyed by China’s continued dredging and island-building activities.
The Philippines gets over 25 percent of the fish catch from the Spratlys using sustainable fishing methods.
Last July the Permanent Court or Arbitration based in The Hague ruled that China’s claim over almost the entire South China Sea is without basis. It was in view of this development, and in regard for all the studies presented at the International Coral Reef Symposium, that we decided to file a motion to set up a marine peace park in the disputed waters.
With the motion’s rejection, and in accordance with the rule of law and IUCN procedure, we filed a 7-page appeal. But the secretariat rejected it for reasons we do not know. So we decided to take it to the full plenary for a vote.
Before then, we were told by the director-general to withdraw the motion on grounds that the Chinese government had approached her and other officials, and that the motion would supposedly destroy the IUCN. We told her that the motion’s text is purely about conservation and there is nothing political in it.
Pressure was brought to bear on the motion’s principal sponsor, the Center for Environmental Legal Studies at Pace Law School in New York. It was forced to withdraw the motion in plenary, much to the objection of its young lawyers who had helped us during the process.
We had argued: How can one save the whales and make a marine sanctuary for whales—a proposal that was approved—and other marine areas if one does not protect the richest coral colonies, the beginning of the food chain of the marine environment from where all the phytoplankton and zooplankton emanate?
We had also pointed out: The oceans are dying from continued acidification, and gyres and dead zones have increased more than marine protected areas.
But sadly, it seems the Union knows so little of the marine environment. And sadly, it seems to be controlled by China in terms of continued funding (in whatever capacity, it is not mentioned in the Union’s financial plan and audit reports).
We were able to read our statement in plenary, and it earned a thundering ovation from the members. But sadly, it seems that politics and economics now rule the world’s biggest environmental union. It has had its baptism of fire.
And these are indeed sad times for the conservation movement.
Antonio M. Claparols is president of the Ecological Society of the Philippines.
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