An Insight into Land Reclamation

Written by: Syed Nabil Bin Syed Hassnor (1AD2)

In the process of “reclaiming” more land, are we actually losing something more significant?

Pre-Introduction: A Reflection from Beach Clean-Up VIA 2022

In the humid yet sunny morning of 7th May 2022, the AC Press embarked on our iconic Values-in-Action (VIA) activity, where we picked up trash and cleaned the parks and shorelines of East Coast Park. It was an amazing experience for me, not only because I got to play a significant part in keeping the environment clean and healthy, but also because the event enabled me to foster stronger ties with my Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) mates.

On my journey there, I decided to read up some interesting information about East Coast Park and I encountered an astonishing discovery: the East Coast Park is actually built on reclaimed land! Such a discovery, therefore, led me to write this article about land reclamation, discussing more about its boons and banes to our earth.

Introduction

Did you know: the land of Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay Sands did not actually exist before, and is actually a man-made construction? Watch the video below to find out more about how the land was brought about!

A video about how land reclamation brought about Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay district (Source: Temasek Digital, extracted from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaXN6nFWsZ0)

What is Land Reclamation?

Land reclamation is the process of creating new areas of land from the sea using materials and resources from the environment. There are mainly two main reasons as to why land reclamation is done.

Firstly, as suggested by the video above, land reclamation enables a country to create new land for housing, industrial, agricultural, recreational or commercial purposes in the context whereby the country faces a lack of or insufficient natural land space. According to a post by Tansi International College, Awka, reclaimed land can also be used for “wildlife purposes”.

Secondly, in more geographical concepts, land reclamation can be a coastal protection measure to reduce the impact of erosion on coastlines, to improve the quality of the air, as well as prevent harmful pests from breeding in the environment (Source: Graham Churchill, 2019)

Why should we talk about it?

A month ago, I came across an article by Channel News Asia (CNA) about the Maldives’ plans to reclaim more land “as sea levels continue to rise”. This article really puzzles me because the fact that sea levels have been continuing to rise is already worrying enough.

A picture of Meeru Islands, Maldives (Source: agoda.com extracted from https://www.agoda.com/meeru-island-resort-spa/hotel/maldives-islands-mv.html?cid=1844104)

From the article, it is mentioned that “Most of the country’s 1200 islands are under threat from rising sea levels and being slowly swallowed by the waves through erosion.” Some concerning data of the rising sea levels include:

  • For the past half a century, sea levels have been rising at a more rapid rate than ever since 3,000 years ago
  • Over the last decade, the rate has been about 4mm per year

A rise in sea levels is a consequence of global warming, which causes ice glaciers to melt and expand water in the ocean. Coastal flooding and storm surges will also prevail and become more frequent as temperatures continue to rise. Such research has proven global warming and its detrimental effects true and ever-present.

Global warming aside, while land reclamation can be seen to improve social welfare and accommodate a country’s development, it could severely damage the marine life like coral reefs.

The negative impacts of land reclamation

Undeniably, one horrid impact of land reclamation is the destruction it brings to the marine ecosystem – habitats of the marine life are removed in place for land to be built. Careful research by Yu Ge and Zhang Jun-yan from ScienceDirect found that the coasts of Jiaozhou Bay reduced in area significantly within 45 years mainly due to reclamation works, and changes to its coastlines are extremely clear.

A figure showing the change of coastline and surroundings in Jiazhou Bay (Source: Yu Ge and Jun-Yan’s research, 2011)

Such changes to coasts can lead to the decline of biological diversity, the loss of wetlands and an adverse effect on the living environment of marine life for the migratory species. Read up their full research here.

“Land reclamation tends to be expensive because reclaimed soil is weak, compressible, takes many years to stabilize, and consequently not economic for tall buildings. Foundations are expensive because you can only build low-rise buildings on raft or mat footings and other expensive engineering measures,” says the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Philippines.

A rough conclusion

Like any other types of measures, land reclamation has its own costs and benefits. It provides countries with more necessary space, but comes with an unexcludable blow to the environment. Whether it leans more towards the good or bad side is highly dependent on how current circumstances unfold from them and our current needs and desires at today’s point of time. What is your take on this?

Acknowledgements:

  • Temasek Digital, Building Marina Bay District from the Ground Up
  • Tansi International College, Land Reclamation (https://tansicollege.edu.ng/content/land-reclamation)
  • Graham Churchill, An Essential Guide to Land Reclamation (https://www.grahamchurchillplant.co.uk/an-essential-guide-to-land-reclamation)
  • CNA, Fighting the tides: Maldives races to reclaim more land as sea levels rise
  • agoda.com
  • Yu Ge and Zhang Ju-yang, Analysis of the impact on ecosystem and environment of marine reclamation-A case study in Jiaozhou Bay
  • NAST Philippines, Reclamation: Pros and cons (https://www.nast.ph/index.php/downloads/category/75-policy-discussion-on-the-hazards-risk-and-profits-of-reclamation?download=254:reclamation-pros-and-cons)

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