Sand mining in China has been massively stepped up over several decades to make the concrete and cement needed for the country's boom in urbanization infrastructure. The scale of this activity in the Yangtze River basin, for example, has destroyed crucial spawning, feeding and rearing grounds for its aquatic organisms, contributing to the demise of unique species such as the now-extinct Yangtze river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) and the endangered Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis ssp. asiaeorientalis).
Although the Chinese government set out a strict management plan for sand mining in the Yangtze River basin in 2012, our field investigations over two years from August 2015 indicate that operations are increasing, often illegally. Colossal vessels are mining sand outside the permitted areas and times in the Yangtze's main stem and its tributaries, and in the huge connecting lakes Poyang and Dongting.
The impact of sand mining on the river's ecology is exacerbated by many mega-dam developments upriver that obstruct sand replenishment downstream (B. Hu et al. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 13, 2253–2264; 2009). We appeal to the Chinese government to clamp down on this wholesale destruction of aquatic organisms' habitat and to promote ecologically friendly building substitutes.