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Fiery Cross Reef, a tiny coral dot in the 3.6 million sq. km of the South China Sea, wouldn’t seem the most obvious or ecologically sound location for a 3 km airstrip. But based on satellite images released last week by Jane’s Defence Weekly, that’s exactly what China seems to be getting ready to build atop it.

Such construction is unfortunately not unusual in the South China Sea, where nations seeking to enforce their territorial claims have not always spent much time worrying about the environmentally and economically valuable reefs under the waves. How valuable? A 2011 report to the U.N. General Assembly on coral reefs noted that seafaring Asian nations count between 100,000 and “more than” 1 million coral reef fishers among them.

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