GS Paper 3
Syllabus: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
Context: Should new land be generated in oceans by land reclamation, given that coastal regions around the world are endangered by rising sea levels and more severe storms?
|Meaning||It is the process of creating new land from oceans, seas, riverbeds or lake beds.|
|Methods||Infilling (filling the area with large amounts of heavy rock/cement/clay/dirt until the desired height is reached), draining of submerged wetlands, land dredging (removal of sediments and debris from the bottom of a body of water), etc.|
|Objectives||A solution for many countries is to control flooding and make more space for agriculture and coastal industries, balancing economy and ecology.
Cities are already spending to include “future-ready” reclamation techniques – including seawalls and breakwaters – in ongoing reclamation projects and reinforcing and elevating existing coastal defences.
|Example||The Netherlands, where around one-third of the country is below sea level, must be artificially drained to keep out the North Sea.|
|Now a global-scale phenomenon||With the increased economic importance of coastal zones, coastal land reclamation has become a global phenomenon despite considerable cost and engineering challenges.
106 cities around the world had altogether created around 2,530 square km of coastal land (~90% of that land was created in East Asia), an area roughly the size of Luxembourg.
|China leads the way||From 2000 to 2020, Shanghai alone added around 350 square km, with Singapore and Incheon (South Korea), also raising vast new areas.
The “eco-city” projects in cities like Tianjin and Tangshan near Beijing include environmentally friendly features like rehabilitated wetlands, artificial reefs, and restored mangrove forests that act as a buffer from ocean storms.
This means, the reclamation projects today are getting intertwined with the emerging sustainability paradigm.
- Most coastal land expansions happened in low-lying areas, with more than 70% of new land ‘at high risk’ of storm surges and flooding due to rising sea levels linked to climate change.
- The environmental cost of land reclamation projects can be significant.
- Projects have destroyed coastal land like marshes, swamps and mangrove forests.
- Using sand obtained from the marine and river environment can mean the destruction of habitats and spawning grounds of organisms.
As sea levels rise, is land reclamation still a good idea?
While land reclamation has provided benefits in the past, the changing climate and rising sea levels introduce new challenges and risks. For example, the Maldives, a nation that heavily relied on land reclamation, now faces the threat of losing large portions of its reclaimed land due to rising sea levels, making it an unsuitable long-term solution.
It is crucial to assess the long-term sustainability, environmental impact, and cost-effectiveness of land reclamation projects in the context of a changing climate.
- Use alternative fill like excavated rock and soil from local construction projects, or reclaimed concrete, asphalt, bricks and other rubble.
- Several countries (Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam) have already banned the export of sand for land reclamation.
Seas are not empty spaces as there are vibrant human and non-human communities whose lives are dependent on the health of the sea. Therefore, they need to be protected.