Images show Chinese ships are back in South China Sea to harvest endangered clams and wreck coral

China’s “most destructive” clam fishing boats have returned to the disputed South China Sea in force over the last six months to harvest endangered giant clams, destroying vast swaths of coral reef, a U.S. think thank said in a study released Monday.

Citing satellite imagery since late 2018, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said Chinese clam fleets operated frequently at Scarborough Shoal, disputed between China and the Philippines, and throughout the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by Vietnam, China and Taiwan.

These fleets typically include dozens of small fishing vessels accompanied by a handful of larger “motherships,” CSIS said, adding, “Now, as then, Chinese authorities are aware of and appear to condone the activities of these fleets.”

The clam shells are transported back to Hainan Province, in southern China, where they fetch thousands of dollars each in a thriving market for jewelry and statuary.

From 2016 to late 2018, the number of Chinese clam ships operating in the South China Sea dropped sharply, after such harvesters severely damaged or destroyed at least 28 reefs across the contested waterway from 2012 to 2015.

In July 2016, an arbitral tribunal that ruled on a case brought against Beijing by Manila found that China had violated its obligations under international law to protect the marine environment.

CSIS, however, said the study has not found clear evidence of new clam harvesting in the Spratly Islands, claimed in whole or in part by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

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