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Land reclamation

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation


Source: IE

 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?

Land reclamation
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.


Way ahead:

  • 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.


Insta Links:

Global Land Outlook report