|Prospects for satellite imagery of insular features and surrounding marine habitats in the South China Sea|In: Marine Policy. Pergamon: Guildford. ISSN 0308-597X, more
South China Sea; Remote sensing; Satellite imagery; Maritime dispute; Marine habitat; Marine spatial planning
This paper investigates the extent to which remote sensing data can contribute to the management of two parallel crises in the South China Sea (SCS); first the ongoing disputes related to islands and related maritime boundaries and second the degradation of the marine environment and the decrease in fish stocks. It demonstrates that remote sensing surveys are the only means to lawfully collect independent and verifiable geographic data on the disputed features without the need to consult all the claimants and thereby add to regional frictions and tensions. These surveys can contribute to the determination of whether these features are submerged or above water at high tide and what their physical characteristics are. This would inform the application of the Law of the Sea and help determine entitlements to maritime zones and thus access to resources. The other category of uses for remote sensing surveys which is explored is the identification and classification of marine habitats and the building of a biogeographic platform. This paper shows the limits created by unavoidable uncertainties in the interpretation of satellite imagery. However, many benefits outweigh the downsides: the potential for national and regional marine spatial planning, for the prioritization of marine environments in need of management, for the implementation by the States bordering the SCS of the international treaties which they have ratified and for ecological monitoring.