21st Century

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  • Topic: Spratly Islands, Philippines, South China Sea
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  • Published : December 16, 2012
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Spratly Island
The Spratly Islands are a group of more than 750 reefs,[2] islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea. The archipelago lies off the coasts of the Philippines and Malaysia (Sabah), about one third of the way from there to southern Vietnam. They contain less than four square kilometers of land area spread over more than 425,000 square kilometers of sea. The Spratlys are one of three archipelagos of the South China Sea which comprise more than 30,000 islands and reefs and which complicate governance and economics in that region of Southeast Asia. Such small and remote islands have little economic value in themselves, but are important in establishing international boundaries. There are no native islanders but there are, at least for now, rich fishing grounds; and initial surveys indicate the islands may contain significant reserves of oil and natural gas. About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from Vietnam, the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia and the Philippines. Brunei has also claimed an Exclusive Economic Zone in the southeastern part of the Spratlys encompassing just one area of small islands above mean high water (on Louisa Reef). This has led to escalating tensions over the Islands' disputed status. The islands are most likely volcanic in origin.[4] The islands themselves contain almost no significant arable land and have no indigenous inhabitants, although twenty of the islands, including Taiping Island, the largest, are considered to be able to sustain human life. Natural resources include fish, guano, undetermined oil and natural gas potential. Economic activity includes commercial fishing, shipping, and tourism. The proximity to nearby oil- and gas-producing sedimentary basins suggests the potential for oil and gas deposits, but the region is largely unexplored, and there are no reliable estimates of potential reserves. Commercial exploitation of hydrocarbons has yet to be developed. The Hydrocarbon deposits have been valued at 26.3 Trillion US dollars as of 2012.[5] The Spratly Islands have at least three fishing ports, several docks and harbors, at least three heliports, at least four territorial rigging style outposts (especially due west of Namyit Island),[6] and six to eight airstrips.These islands are strategically located near several primary shipping lanes. -------------------------------------------------

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Ecology
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Coral reefs
Coral reefs are the predominant structure of these islands; the Spratly group contains over 600 coral reefs in total.[2] Vegetation
Little vegetation grows on these islands, which are subject to intense monsoons.[2] Larger islands are capable of supporting tropical forest, scrub forest, coastal scrub and grasses.[2] It is difficult to determine which species have been introduced or cultivated by humans.[2] Taiping Island was reportedly covered with shrubs, coconut, and mangroves in 1938; pineapple was also cultivated here when it was profitable.[2] Other accounts mentionpapaya, banana, palm, and even white peach trees growing on one island.[2] A few islands which have been developed as small tourist resorts had soil and trees brought in and planted where there were none.[2] Wildlife

The islands that do have vegetation provide important habitats for many seabirds and sea turtles.[2] Both the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas, endangered) and the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata, critically endangered) formerly occurred in numbers sufficient to support commercial exploitation.[2] These species reportedly continue to nest even on islands inhabited by military personnel (such as Pratas) to some extent, though it is...
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