Singapore’s insatiable hunger for sand

Singapore has a lot of money but not much coastline or territory. Cambodia has lots of coastline and territory but not enough money.

The result is a gigantic but murky arrangement that has resulted in billions of cubic feet of sand being dredged up and removed from Cambodia’s coastline and shipped by barge to Singapore where it has been turned into square kilometres of new Singapore territory which becomes the location of new skyscrapers, hotels, convention centers and casinos.

The scale of the sand dredging operation in and around the mouth of the Tatai River and Koh Khong is immense: hundreds of gigantic barges, dredging ships, tugboats and support craft working 24/7, 365 days a year. In the end, this might turn out to be one of the largest ongoing sand dredging operations in the world.

Whether any actual “environmental impact studies” or any assessments at all were carried out is questionable. The entire “legality” of the operation is questionable. Where the hundreds of millions of dollars being paid for the sand is actually ending up is questionable. Entire beaches have disappeared as the normal sand rotation and erosion process is drastically altered. Restaurants, hotels, entire fishing villages have suffered from the major coastline impacts that have occurred to date and no one really knows what the more long term impacts will be.

Some of the ocean going sand barges appear to be the size of aircraft carriers, 1000 feet long perhaps (in one of the photos there is blue and white tugboat to the left which looks 40 to 50 feet long and a smaller barge in the foreground which is looks about 600 feet long).

In another photo, there is a small fishing boat, probably about 20+ feet long, which again gives an idea of the size and scale of the ships involved in the dredging operation.

The dredging operation is not only taking place in around the mouth of the Tatai River, it also stretches miles out to sea.


For anyone interested in learning more about Singapore’s search for sand, here are a few links to get started:

http://throughthesandglass.typepad.com/through_the_sandglass/2011/09/where-does-singapore-come-from.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/22/sand-dredging-singapore-construction-environment-cambodia_n_932840.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/11/singapore-sand-imports-global-witness

http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2637&Itemid=195

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/EG31Ae01.html

http://www.spp.nus.edu.sg/docs/case/LKYSPPCaseStudy12-01_Dirty_Business_of_Sand.pdf

http://coastalcare.org/2011/06/sand-dredging-operations-of-%E2%80%9Cunprecedented-scale%E2%80%9D-cambodia/

http://www.dredgingtoday.com/2011/08/10/cambodia-controversial-sand-dredging-on-tatai-river-continues/

http://www.dredgingtoday.com/2011/06/23/cambodia-tatai-river-sand-dredging-operations-cause-problems/

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2010051138996/National-news/sand-exports-go-on-unabated.html

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php?option=com_jcs&view=jcs&layout=form&Itemid=555

About Chris Coles, Guest Contributor