The term “land reclamation” is used to describe two different activities. In the first sense, it involves modifying wetlands or waterways to convert them into usable land, usually for the purpose of development. It can also be a process in which damaged land is restored to its natural state. In both cases, the term is used to refer to some sort of process that is designed to fundamentally alter the characteristics of a piece of land to achieve a desired end goal.
The practice of filling in wetlands and waterways to make more land is ancient. Humans tend to settle near water, since they need it to survive, and because waterways can be used as a method of transportation for people and goods. As human settlements grow, the pressure on the existing land also grows, and people may start to expand outwards by filling in the surrounding area. Land reclamation has historically been accomplished with garbage and other landfill material, making reclaimed areas highly unstable and prone to developing sinkholes.
Reclaimed land can also be quite expensive, since it is located close to the water in areas that are appealing to many settlers. People may be willing to pay a premium for reclaimed land, especially if they used to live and do business by the shoreline and the reclamation has pushed their property inland. In some regions of the world, this process happened so long ago that people are not aware that they are living and doing business on land that was created by artificial means.
Land reclamation is also used to repair environmental damage. For example, if a beach becomes severely eroded, beach nourishment may be used to restore the beach, a method designed to preserve the existing natural environment. Land reclamation is also used in regions that experience desertification, with the goal of turning arid land into farmland. Regions like Southern California were settled after reclamation made the land usable, while in parts of Africa and Asia where the desert is expanding, the process is used to keep human communities intact.
Environmentalists use a version to repair land that has been subjected to some form of environmental damage. For example, heavily polluted land may be put on a land reclamation plan that is designed to remove the pollutants and promote the re-establishment of native plant and animal species. Damaged wetlands, including those that have been filled to make usable land, can also be reclaimed through a slow environmental remediation process.