Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 | Author:

In the middle of the South China Sea, there is a group of tiny islands that go by a multitude of names – the Pratas Islands, the Tungsha Islands, or the Dongsha Islands. For the past 66 years, China and Taiwan have been feuding over these islands that are only 1.2 square miles long.  Why would Taiwan and China fight over such a small area?  It’s a coral atoll – a goldmine for fishermen from Taiwan, China and Vietnam.  There’s 614 different species of fish, 295 species of coral and 210 species of underwater plants that live in the atoll.  Fish from the Dongsha reef are in great demand in Hong Kong, where the fish are often used in famous Cantonese cuisine.  Mainland China and Hong Kong’s growing population also needs more food.  This has made the fighting over the islands even more intense, as China wants the islands to provide fish, whereas Taiwan wants to keep the islands as a national park:

Despite the efforts of Taiwan to keep the coral safe, fishermen use dynamite and cyanide to bring up multitudes of fish.  If that’s not bad enough, some bigger fishing companies used trawlers to catch these fish.  As we discussed in class, these trawlers drag their nets along the bottom along the ocean floor, not just picking up their catch, but other fish and corals as well. Not only that, but some trawlers have vacuums that “suck up” all the fish along the floor of the coral bed, including the fish that aren’t part of the catch.  Sedimentation from heavy farming in China and Taiwan drifts south to land on top of parts of the seabed, killing the coral by blocking out sunlight and causing eutrophication from the excess nutrients.

However, there is hope for the Dongsha Atoll.  The Coast Guard expelled 641 fishing boats in 2009 alone, and have starting removing illegal supply platforms for the fishermen.  Researchers have also started to chart the destruction of the reef. The question is, how can fishermen be persuaded to be more careful with their catch?  How can fishermen get involved in saving the reefs when they need the money and food?

Huang, Vicky. “Taiwan Review – Reviving Dongsha’s Coral Forest.” Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <>
“Southeast Asia.” Web. 13 Apr. 2012.<>
“Taiwan Environmental Monitoring Network in the South China Sea.” Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <>
Category: Uncategorized
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
  1. katja Torneman says:

    THank you for commenting in the film Anna, Emma and the Condors. It was a student film and it could only be 20 minutes. I focused on the Condors because it was a success story about a family that dedicates their lives to save an endangered species. I chose to have children in the film because they are our future Their education and awareness in important to save the endangered species and our planet.

  2. kdiemer54 says:

    Thanks for the information, Dayna! I’m glad to know that the sharks are being protected, too. I’m surprised so many are threatened. I always thought of sharks as too powerful to be caught.

    I’m not sure what the fishermen will do if they run out of fish. They could turn to other jobs, but everyone needs food, and with land degradation rising in Southeast Asia, that could extremely difficult.

  3. Dr. Szulczewski says:

    This situation shows how complicated so-called simple environmental problems get when you involve politics and international relationships!

  4. dbeckham says:

    I did some research on the protection of aquatic animals and I found information on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species aka the Washington Convention. It’s essentially a multilateral treaty that has a main goal of ensuring that international trade of wild animals/plants doesn’t threaten the overall survival of the wild species. Here’s a list of the numbers of species that are protected against over-exploitation: The numbers are pretty great, so it’s definitely a step in the right direction for protection of threatened species.

    Also, at a past convention in March, they proposed a list of sharks that should be added to the threatened species!

  5. K. Davis says:

    This is a really sticky situation. It’s so unfortunate that this little atoll is causing so much trouble, but the questions you posed at the end of your post are hard to answer. I think the best answer would be to put some very strict fishing regulations in place in order to protect the environment. Ideally, it would be nice for Taiwan to be able to make the atoll a national park…this would protect the fish/other creatures, as well as the coral. But with the demand for food rising, where will these fisherman turn to? Maybe another similar area where they will fish in the same destructive manner? It’s hard to say, but obviously something has to be done.