Sand mining threatens ways of life, from Cambodia to Nigeria

A global building boom is driving a high demand for sand, and some of it is getting sourced from sensitive river systems that people rely on for traditional uses like fishing.

If you were disturbed by the damage done to Cambodian coastal fisheries by the industrial-scale dredging of sand for sale to Singapore, as shown in the new documentary short “The Lost World,” there’s good news: the practice has largely been shut down in Koh Kong, the area featured in the film. The bad news is that environmentally destructive sand mining continues in other parts of Cambodia, throughout Southeast Asia, and in fact around the world.

Since the mid-’00s, fishers in villages in the mangrove-rich estuaries of Koh Kong province have complained that rampant sand mining was wiping out the crabs and fish that provide their living. Many families have had to send members to work in garment factories in the distant capital of Phnom Penh, or have simply moved away. The dredging also threatened endangered native dolphins, turtles, and otters. Much of the sand was sold to Singapore, which uses titanic quantities of the material for its ongoing effort to bulk up its tiny territory with artificial land. The city-state has “reclaimed” some 140 square kilometers of land from the sea since 1965.

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