Last week, a local Arakan paper released startling photos of thousands of dead fish along the Coast of Kyauk Phyu Township in Burma. While it’s not definitive what caused such massive amounts of fish to die, the proximity of the dead fish to China’s oil and gas pipeline projects and claims by locals that Chinese companies are blasting coral reefs with dynamite — a technique used to create gravel for the construction of seaports and oil and gas pipelines and to ease access for large ships — suggests the two might are connected. Since the blasts began occurring in 2009, local residents have witnessed an increasing scarcity of fish, as well as mass deaths of other aquatic animals such as turtles and prawns.

Since late 2009, China has been constructing oil and gas pipelines, as well as seaports, in the Arakan state without consent or consultations from the local people. Daewoo international is also constructing a natural gas terminal and offshore gas platforms in the area. The projects began without transparent environmental and social impact assessments, and little information has been available on the potential impacts to the fragile ecosystem, including mangrove forests and coral reefs that are critical to the local fishing industry, a primary means of survival for many local communities. On top of this, local authorities have placed restrictions on fishing activities in the area, further threatening local livelihoods.

Here at ERI we have blogged extensively on oil and gas pipeline projects in Southeast Asia, and the caution and planning that should be used if such projects are to proceed. Already, there have been well documented abuses associated with the pipelines to China, including corrupt land confiscation practices, environmental destruction, incidents of forced labor, and in northern Shan State, severe human rights abuses as the Burma army attempts to wrest control of the pipeline corridor from several ethnic armed groups, leading to violence against local people, and internally displaced persons.

Of the four million inhabitants of the Arakan State, a majority depend on sustenance farming and fishing to live, which in turn relies on clean water and stable ecosystems. The visual shock these pictures bring is followed by an equally shocking question of what millions of people will do if deaths like this keep occurring.