After receiving reports of China ships allegedly dumping tons of trash and raw sewage into contested areas of the South China Sea, the Philippines' defense ministry said it would investigate.
The ministry said it had ordered several military vessels to survey the area where the alleged dumping had occurred. China lays claim to most of the South China Sea, where countries such as the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia also have claims.
Artificial intelligence-based satellite imaging analysis company Simularity first broke the news after releasing several satellite images captured over a five-year period. The company alleged that Chinese vessels have been dumping untreated human waste in a vast area around the contested waters.
China has maintained a large and constant military and civilian presence in the South China Sea as part of its efforts to assert its claim of sovereignty. The nation had even created dozens of artificial islands along several reefs, while also building massive military installations around the area.
"While we are confirming and verifying these wastes being dumped ... we consider such irresponsible acts, if true, to be gravely detrimental to the marine ecology in the area," Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana said that even though the waters are contested, all countries must still be responsible for ensuring the protection of the environment and its natural resources.
Simularity's founder and chief executive officer, Liz Derr, said in a statement that the waste they had discovered was extensive enough to threaten the area's fish stock. She said the extent of the damage is so intense that it could be seen from space.
"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. This is a catastrophe of epic proportions and we are close to the point of no return," Derr said.
The Philippines's Department of Environment and Natural Resources said it has already coordinated with the Philippine Coast Guard to verify the reports. Environment Undersecretary Benny D. Antiporda said they will also be bringing in the Department of National Defense and the Department of Foreign Affairs to assist in the matter.