At least 236 Chinese vessels in the South China Sea have reportedly dumped raw sewage into the ocean, causing damage to the coral reefs and the marine eco-system.
The report, released on July 12, was based on findings from Simularity, a U.S. satellite imagery analysis firm.
In an interview with ABS-CBN News, CEO Liz Derr said while her firm "can't definitively say" that the vessels are Chinese, they appear to be "the same ships that have been there since March and they look very similar", leading her to conclude that the ships are most likely from China.
Effects of dumping can be seen from space
According to Derr during her presentation at a virtual forum, the effects of the dumping are even observable from space.
Ships anchored around the Spratly Islands dumped raw sewage from May 14, 2016 to June 17, 2021, the firm discovered.
Derr said, "The hundreds of ships that are anchored there are dumping raw sewage, every day onto the reefs they are occupying."
"When the ships don't move, the poop piles up," she added.
As per Simularity's analysis, the dumping may very well lead to "dead zones", where no fish and coral reef would be able to survive due to the lack of oxygen. This is due to the excess phytoplankton growth, taking up the oxygen from fishes and coral reefs in the area.
The situation could potentially put the fish stock in the region at risk, which is an important food source in the region.
Defended their report against "fake news" allegations
Chinese and Philippines officials have cast doubts on the authenticity of Simularity's report, including Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., CNN reported.
They pointed out that the photos used in the report were from another location, but the firm rebutted these allegations, saying "there is nothing fake" about their research and reporting.
Saying that "some parties have tried to discredit [them], question [their] analysis, and claim that [their] report is fake news", Derr said images taken elsewhere were included to "provide context that illustrates the common sewage dumping practice of ships".
The Defence Secretary of the Philippines Delfin Lorenzana had issued a public statement saying they are in the midst of verifying the findings, CNN reported. He added that regardless of conflicting claims by states in the South China Sea, "all nations must be responsible stewards" of the environment.
Meanwhile Philippine Senator Grace Poe criticised China as treating the West Philippine Sea as its "toilet", and called it a grave insult to the country's sovereignty, as well as the Filipinos who relied on the waters for their livelihood.
He called the dumping of human waste by Chinese ships "a clear violation of both international and local environmental laws", according to Rappler.
Top image adapted via Simularity