The South China Sea Islands

More than 600 tiny islands, cays, sandbanks and atolls are dotted across the South China Sea.

The South China Sea Islands have been in dispute for centuries, with several neighbouring countries claiming ownership over sections of them.

The South China Sea Islands are mostly made up of coral reefs, many of which become submerged at high tide.

The reefs and islands are home to large numbers of seabirds and sea turtles, such as the endangered Hawksbill turtle.

Only the largest of the South China Sea Islands can support vegetation and animal life, with only a few islands containing fresh water.

The three archipelagos of the South China Sea are the Paracel, Spratly and Pratas Islands – none have been permanently inhabited by humans.

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Flying at 13,000m - A constellation of reefs


Flying at 4,000m - Disputed islands


Flying at sea level - Life on the isolated islands

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© 2017 Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)