Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

River bank instability from unsustainable sand mining in the lower Mekong River

Darby, Stephen ; Hackney, Christopher R.; Best, James; Parsons, Daniel R.; Nicholas, Andrew; Leyland, Julian; Houseago, Robert; Aalto, Rolf


Stephen Darby

Christopher R. Hackney

James Best

Andrew Nicholas

Julian Leyland

Robert Houseago

Rolf Aalto


Recent growth of the construction industry has fuelled demand for sand, with considerable volumes being extracted from the world’s large rivers. Sediment transport from upstream naturally replenishes sediment stored in river beds, but the absence of sand flux data from large rivers inhibits assessment of the sustainability of ongoing sand mining. Here, we demonstrate that bedload (0.18 Mt yr-1 ± 0.07 Mt yr-1) is a small (1%) fraction of the total annual sediment load of the lower Mekong River. Even when considering suspended sand (6 Mt yr-1 ± 2 Mt), the total sand flux entering the Mekong delta (6.18 Mt yr-1 ± 2.01 Mt yr-1) is far less than current sand extraction rates (50 Mt yr-1). We show that at these current rates, river bed levels can be lowered sufficiently to induce river bank instability, potentially damaging housing, infrastructure and threatening lives. Our research suggests that, on the Mekong and other large rivers subject to excessive sand mining, it is imperative to establish regulatory frameworks that limit extraction rates to levels that permit the establishment of a sustainable balance between the natural supply/storage of sand and the rate at which sand is removed.


Houseago, R. C., Nicholas, A. P., Best, J. L., Darby, S. E., Hackney, C. R., Darby, S., …Houseago, R. (2020). River bank instability from unsustainable sand mining in the lower Mekong River. Nature Sustainability, 3(3), 217-225.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 18, 2019
Online Publication Date Jan 13, 2020
Publication Date 2020-03
Deposit Date Jan 13, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jul 14, 2020
Journal Nature Sustainability
Electronic ISSN 2398-9629
Publisher Nature Research (part of Springer Nature)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 3
Issue 3
Pages 217-225
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Received: 1 July 2019; Accepted: 18 November 2019; First Online: 13 January 2020; : The authors declare no competing interests.


You might also like

Downloadable Citations