Despite sand being mined on a huge scale around the world, global data on this activity is largely lacking. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimated that the total exceeds 40 billion tons a year.

Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies makes use of SEI’s case study on the Mekong river basin to examine the economic and environmental effects of unregulated sand mining.

Sand mining can take place on land, the seabed or riverbeds with the latter being the most common source. Examples from the Yangtze river in China, Koh Kong Cambodia and the San Jacinto river in Houston U.S.A. show that sand mining excavates twice as much sand than the natural processes of sedimentation can restore.

This rate of excavation has several wide-ranging effects on both ecosystems and communities that rely on the river for their survival.

The case study illustrates how rapid river sediment reduction affects the region’s fish, soil and plant nutrition, water quality, the stabilization of deltas and the resilience of the ecosystem in the wider river basin. The loss of river sediment further affects the regions ability to cope with extreme weather events linked to climate change.