Sand barges, Hong Kong, South China Sea. Photograph: © SAF – Coastal Care
China has been building manmade bases over some of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea since 2014, specifically targeting shallower areas, sandbanks, and reefs—islands, the shallower the better; a place that won’t sink under a load of concrete.
China has also used reefs and rocky outcrops to its advantage.
To construct the base of the island, sand is piled on the seabed or reef, and then a thick layer of rocks are placed on that. Finally, a thick layer of cement is added to the first two layers. Chinese engineers building islands follow a similar principle that engineers constructing the Palm Islands in Dubai followed, says Mark Jackson, senior lecturer in post-colonial geographies at the University of Bristol. This requires an enormous amount of sand, and China has mainly gathered it using dredgers that grind up the material on the seabed, turn it into fine sand, and then suck it it up through tubes.
The environmental impact of dredging activity is huge—a tribunal at the Hague, by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, slammed China in July 2016 for causing what it described as “ irreparable harm to the marine environment.” The tribunal also criticized China for destroying coral reefs, which it had a duty to protect—international law says that anyone building an island must undertake a thorough environmental assessment beforehand…
China’s island Factory, BBC News(09-09-2014)
New islands are being made in the disputed South China Sea by the might of the Chinese state. But a group of marooned Filipinos on a rusting wreck is trying to stand in the way…
The Rising Environmental Toll Of China’s Offshore Island Grab; Yale E360 (10-10-2016)
To stake its claim in the strategic South China Sea, China is building airstrips, ports, and other facilities on disputed islands and reefs. Scientists say the activities are destroying key coral reef ecosystems and will heighten the risks of a fisheries collapse in the region…
What Happens to a Coral Reef When an Island is Built on Top? the Washington Post (07-11-2015)
Seven such coral reefs are being turned into islands, with harbors and landing strips by the Chinese military, and it is destroying a rich ecological network. “It’s the worst thing that has happened to coral reefs in our lifetime…”
Preventing Ecocide in South China Sea; Guardian UK (07-20-2015)
Land reclamation in the South China Sea could be damaging irreplaceable reef ecosystems, threatening the food security of millions. It’s time for a treaty, says leading scientist…
Such Quantities of Sand, The Economist (07-27-2015)
Asia’s mania for reclaiming land from the sea spawns mounting problems…
Sand, Rarer Than One Thinks: A UNEP report (GEA-March 2014)
Despite the colossal quantities of sand and gravel being used, our increasing dependence on them and the significant impact that their extraction has on the environment, this issue has been mostly ignored by policy makers and remains largely unknown by the general public.
In March 2014 The United Nations released its first Report about sand mining. “Sand Wars” film documentary by Denis Delestrac – first broadcasted on the european Arte Channel, May 28th, 2013, where it became the highest rated documentary for 2013 – expressly inspired the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to publish this 2014-Global Environmental Alert.
Sand Wars, An Investigation Documentary, By Mutlti-Awards Winner Filmmaker Denis Delestrac (©-2013)
Sand is the second most consumed natural resource, after water. The construction-building industry is by far the largest consumer of this finite resource. Land reclamation, shoreline developments and road embankments are using massive amounts of sand as well.
As of 2011-2012, when investigative filmmaker Denis Delestrac and team, were first collecting and unveiling unpublished sand mining datas and information from the professionals involved, the Sand business was estimated to be a $70 billion industry, worldwide…!—Denis Delestrac (©-2013)