The Spratly Islands are a group of more than 750 reefs, 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 comprise 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 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 EEZ in the southeastern part of the Spratlys encompassing just one area of small islands above mean high water (on Louisa Reef.)
Geographic and economic overview
Coordinates: 8°38′N 111°55′E
Area (land): less than 5 km²
note: includes 148 or so islets, coral reefs, and seamounts scattered over an area of nearly 410,000 km² of the central South China Sea Coastline: 926 km
Vietnam: Part of Khánh Hòa Province;
Brunei: Claims Louisa Reef itself, as well as an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around that and neighboring reefs; Malaysia: Part of the state of Sabah;
Philippines: Part of Palawan province;
People's Republic of China: Part of the Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority, Hainan province; Republic of China: Part of Kaohsiung municipality
lowest point: South China Sea (0 m)
highest point: unnamed location on Southwest Cay (4 m)
Natural hazards: serious maritime hazards because of numerous banks, reefs and shoals The islands are most likely volcanic in origin. The islands themselves contain almost no significant arable land and have no indigenous inhabitants, although twenty of the islands, including Itu Aba, 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 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), and six to eight airstrips. These islands are strategically located near several primary shipping lanes.
Coral reefs are the predominant structure of these islands; the Spratly group contains over 600 coral reefs in total.
Little vegetation grows on these islands, which are subject to intense monsoons. Larger islands are capable of supporting tropical forest, scrub forest, coastal scrub and grasses. It is difficult to determine which species have been introduced or cultivated by humans. Itu Aba Island was reportedly covered with shrubs, coconut, and mangroves in 1938; pineapple was also cultivated here when it was profitable. Other accounts mention papaya, banana, palm, and even white peach trees growing on one island. A few islands which have been developed as small tourist resorts have had soil and trees brought in and planted where there were none.
The islands that do have vegetation provide important habitats for many...
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