There's no use in planting a flag in a dead place.

Stormy Waters

Things are heating up in the South China Sea after the Philippines claimed that Chinese fishermen are intentionally using cyanide to destroy the Scarborough Shoal, a tropical atoll that represents hotly disputed territory between the two nations, The Philippine Star reports.

Philippines's Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), which lobbed the charge on Saturday, said damages from Chinese vessels could go over $17.8 million, the news outlet reports.

"These Chinese fishermen use cyanide," said BFAR spokesman Nazario Briguera during a press conference attended by the Star. "[T]hey intentionally destroy Bajo de Masinloc [the Spanish name for the shoal] to prevent Filipino fishing boats to fish in the area."

Adding a wrinkle to the narrative, GMA News reports that the Philippine Coast Guard aren't themselves certain who's responsible for using cyanide in the area.

"We don’t have any scientific study or any evidence that would suggest that cyanide fishing in Bajo de Masinloc can be attributed to the Chinese or the Vietnamese fishermen," Commodore Jay Tarriela of the Philippine Coast Guard told GMA News.

Fish Kill

Scarborough Shoal is an atoll located about 124 miles away from the Philippines, providing an estimated 385,300 people with food and money from 275,520 metric tons of fish caught there per year.

The reason it's emerged as a geopolitical flashpoint is two-fold. First, the atoll is rich with aquatic life and plentiful fishing stocks. And second, it has an inner lagoon that can shelter vessels during stormy weather, making it an ideal rest stop for boats.

Cyanide fishing, which has been used by Filipino fishermen in the past in order to stun or kill fish, is an easy way to get the daily catch — but the method also destroys coral reefs, which are endangered in the Philippines due to the destructive fishing method as well as climate change.

"A square meter of reef is destroyed for every live fish caught using cyanide," International Marinelife Alliance (IMA) in Philippines biologist Sam Mamauag said to the Wold Wildlife Fund.

The dispute over the Scarborough Shoal has been ongoing for years — but we hope if there's any cyanide fishing, it's stopped immediately. There's no use in planting a flag in a dead place.

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