The timing of a sand rush in the area "appears to coincide with the end of sand exports from Indonesia to Singapore," said Eleanor Nichol, a campaigner for corruption watchdog Global Witness.
Reclamation at Pasir Panjang Container Port.
Singapore is said to be the epicentre of a global sand industry worth more than US$6 billion annually, importing around 3.8 million tons of sand each year for land reclamation and construction projects.
The sharp increase in sand-mining activity has environmentalists worried that virgin coastal estuaries in Cambodia will meet a similar fate to Indonesia's Riau Islands, where intensive sand extraction resulted in serious environmental degradation and forced Jakarta to institute a blanket ban on the practice in January 2007.
At the time, the Jakarta Post quoted Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Desra Percaya as saying sand extraction operations had caused "severe environmental damage" to several islands in the archipelago, including Sebayik and Nipah.
As the dredgers close in on Cambodia, local fishermen say they have noticed changes in the age-old patterns that govern life on the water.
Chun Doeun, 38, who has been fishing the Koh Pao River for 15 years, noted the strange behaviour of local crab species, which have floated to the water's surface since the arrival of the sand-dredgers last year.
Nao Thuok, director of the Fisheries Administration, acknowledged that sand-mining could harm fisheries by destroying sea-grass and spawning grounds, but said that the Administration was doing its best to advise authorities about the effects.
"If they ask our opinion about any project, then we will study [it]. If there are seahorses there, or sea-grass or coral reefs, we will inform them that they cannot mine," he said, adding that its recommendations had already helped stop proposed operations near Koh Tang and Koh Rong Samloem that would have seriously damaged marine ecosystems.
He added that the limited sand-mining operations currently in place would probably have little effect on the overall health of Cambodia's marine areas, provided they were restricted to 1 or 2 percent of the area.
from Sand mining spikes in Koh Kong estuaries Sebastian Stragio and Vong Sokheng The Phnom Penh Post 10 Mar 09;
- Singapore's sandy footprint for more links.
- Peam Krasop, Cambodia on the UNEPSCS website.
- Marine Protected Areas in Southeast Asia: Cambodia on the ASEAN Regional Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (ARCBC) website.