A continuation from the Spratly Islands dispute post
Nat Geo Reporter Rachel Bale reports her investigation into giant clam poachers on reefs in the South China Sea, like those on the Spratly Islands, in the video below:
In 2012 Philippine authorities found a Chinese fishing boat loaded with corals, live sharks, and giant clam shells at Scarborough Shoal, some 138 miles (220 kilometers) from the Philippine coast.
The government contacted Gomez with a question. Why in the world would the Chinese have so many giant clam shells? Gomez didn’t know, but he soon found out. A friend gave him a tip, advising him to visit the port town of Tanmen, on the island of Hainan.
When he got there, he was flabbergasted: “Rows and rows of shops selling nothing but giant clam carvings, giant clam shells, and corals,” he says. “There must have been, I would guess, a mile and a half of stores.”
It turned out that the giant clam handicraft market in China had exploded, and the South China Sea was its epicenter.
By the late 1990s Hainan fishermen had overfished their coastal waters. Their catches were getting smaller, and they were looking for ways to supplement their income, says Zhang Hongzhou, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
The government helped them out with a special fuel subsidy to travel more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) south to the Spratly Islands, as well as subsidies for bigger and better boats.