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How China’s largest freshwater lake was decimated by sand mining.

By Simon Scarr & Manas Sharma


Decades of mass urbanisation in China have fuelled rampant demand for sand to make glass, concrete and other materials used in construction. The most desirable sand for this industry comes from rivers and lakes rather than deserts and oceans. Much of the sand used to build the country’s megacities has come from Poyang Lake, in the eastern province of Jiangxi.

Already ravaged by sand mining, the lake now faces a biodiversity crisis. At the start of this year, the provincial government revived a project to alleviate drought by regulating water flows between the Yangtze River and Poyang Lake with a 3 km-long sluice gate.

Chinese conservationist Zhang Daqian criticized the planned structure, saying it would cut the lake off from the river, “leaving Poyang a dead lake”.

The shallow lake, a national nature reserve, is also a rest stop for over 300 species of migratory birds, including the critically endangered Siberian crane. It is home to the endangered Yangtze River or finless porpoise, a short-snouted dolphin-like creature known for its ‘smile’ but of which there are only around 1,000 individuals left.

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