MANILA - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has released photos of several Chinese cargo ships full of giant clams in at least 5 areas of the Philippines-claimed Kalayaan Island Group.
One ship had a backhoe, which it reportedly uses to haul giant clams en masse.
AFP aircraft routinely fly over the West Philippine Sea for patrol missions.
The military took photographs of the Chinese vessels from September 2013 to March 2014.
An AFP intelligence report said the Chinese ships are anchored in different parts of the Kalayaan Island Group and are filled with giant clams.
The clams are an endangered species, which, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), must neither be harvested nor sold.
The AFP said the ships were spotted in at least 5 areas of the West Philippine Sea.
In September and November 2013, the cargo ships were in Ayugin Shoal.
In November 2013 until January 2014, they were seen near Pag-asa Island.
Cargo ships full of clams were also sighted in the Union banks and reefs, Tizard banks and reefs, and Hasa-hasa Shoal, where Chinese fishermen were caught poaching endangered sea turtles.
In February, the AFP photographed a Chinese ship in Malvar Reef with a backhoe.
Intelligence reports said the backhoe is used to haul the giant clams from underwater.
It has left a trail of damage on the corals of the reef.
In April, ABS-CBN News filmed small fishing boats with Chinese characters carrying giant clams near Pag-asa island, and taking them to larger boats with Chinese flags.
They use large nets to haul the clams aboard.
The spokesperson of the AFP Naval Forces West said Philippine authorities are being careful in making arrests at this time when the arbitration case is still ongoing.
"Dahil ongoing pa ang arbitration, ang directive sa amin ay huwag munang gumawa ng kahit anong kilos na makakapag-trigger ng tension o karahasan," said Lt. Janjoe Saquiban.
Giant clams are said to be sold in the black market as decorations for the home.
Lory Tan, chief executive officer of World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF), said giant clams serve as filters of the sea, making the water clearer and conducive for fish to live in.
Tan believes the problem of Chinese poaching isn't something that can be solved by Philippines arresting Chinese fishermen.
"It's not a wildlife trade… it's a wildlife crime," Tan said. "Hindi solusyon ang dahas at mayayabang na salita. Why? Claimed ito ng ibat-ibang bansa. Kailangan ng malawakang kasunduan sa pagitan ng lahat."
The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier said that it would look into the matter, since it may be another violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). - with ANC