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

Country/area: Singapore

Organisation: Reuters

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 19/07/2021

Credit: Simon Scarr, Manas Sharma


The Reuters graphics team publishes visual stories and data. We typically cover all areas of the news, with content ranging from climate to financial markets. The team conceptualises, researches, reports, and executes many of the visual stories published.

Project description:

This project is part of a series of visual stories examining how a construction boom is driving unregulated sand mining around the world – eroding rivers and coastlines, disrupting ecosystems and hurting livelihoods.

Satellite-derived data reveals the scale of destruction at China’s largest freshwater lake. Reuters was able to visualise the millions of tonnes of sand sucked from the bed and shores, devastating the local environment and the lake’s ability to function.

Impact reached:

This piece, and teh series as a whole, was shared widely online and remains the most in-depth and detailed coverage by any news organisation on the lake and its battle with sand mining. 

Techniques/technologies used:

A large amount of work was done in QGIS, visualising an archive of exclusive high-resolution imagery which Reuters acquired. QGIS was also used to build and export maps. Reuters also worked closely with Earthrise Media, a non-profit group that analyses satellite imagery, to assist with some of the shoreline extraction data.

Javascript was used to navigate the main scrolling and zooming map. Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop were used to style the maps and other graphics which were placed in Ai2HTML files.

The web pages were built and styled using HTML and CSS. 

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of the project was gathering data and reporting on a practice which is largely secretive. Aside from the data-driven reporting and satellite imagery analysis, Reuters was also able to do some in-depth reporting from the lake itself.

What can others learn from this project?

Aside from visual imagery, satellite data can be used to conduct bespoke analysis such as shoreline extractions. Masking water and shore allowed us to pull data on the rate of change over time and allowed us to do calculations and visual presentations on how the lake has changed.

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