Singapore’s thirst for land reclamation is decimating Cambodian coastal mangrove forests

In our bid to aggressively expand our land mass, it seems that our voracious appetite for sand comes at the cost of an isolated Cambodian fishing village: Koh Sralav. 

While the city-state continues to expand through land reclamation projects, Koh Sralav’s coastal mangrove forests are getting decimated due to vigorous dredging, reports The Christian Science Monitor. As the largest sand importer in the world, we’re buying up tens of millions of tons of sand — and Cambodian firms are more than happy to oblige. 

The losers? Koh Sralav’s fishermen, who rely on catching the crabs and fish that once lived among the roots in one of Southeast Asia’s largest mangrove forests. Years of sand dredging have deepened the shallow estuaries around the village, causing strong currents to eat away at the riverbanks and destroy the mangrove. 

Photo: Mother Nature Cambodia / Facebook

Aside from the massive environmental impact, the activities of excavators and barges have also caused the water to become slick with oil stains. 

What makes it more terrible is the fact that the dredgers have been flouting laws and refusing to take heed of the locals’ objections. Miners have been licensed to dig for sand in mangrove forests protected under an international treaty meant to preserve the world’s wetlands — the Ramsar Convention

Required environmental impact assessments have been largely disregarded, and years of widespread protests from local fishing communities have gone ignored. Three members of Koh Kong-based environmental group Mother Nature were arrested and jailed for “threatening to cause destruction, defacement, or damage,” to dredging equipment during their three-day protest in 2015. They occupied dredging barges and cranes, forcing operations to halt. 

The three protestors from Mother Nature, after their release from jail. Photo: Mother Nature Cambodia / Facebook

Even Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy isn’t doing much to discourage the mining companies working at the Koh Kong district. The licensing bureau’s old research had revealed “minimal” impact of the dredging, according to The Phom Penh Post

Though Singapore is miles away from Koh Sralav, the impact felt by the Cambodian people hits close in their daily lives. Cambodia has been the Republic’s biggest supplier of sand since Malaysia and Indonesia banned sand exports due to environmental protection. 

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