With global attention on the effects of gold mining and oil extraction on natural habitats, the cement industry has, for the most part, managed to escape media scrutiny. But as an industry, cement has caused its share of environmental destruction, most recently with the disappearance of Plectostoma sciaphilum, a tiny snail in Malaysia.
Malaysian multinational YTL blew up the only hill Plectostoma sciaphilum resided on to cultivate the limestone for their cement. Surrounding hills, where other endangered snail species take refuge, await the same fate.
Plectostoma sciaphilum became the 901st species to go extinct due to mining, fishing, logging and agriculture, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. That number doesn't include the 22,000 species on the verge of extinction, like the Bluefin tuna and the Chinese pufferfish - but often, snails don't get quite the same attention as these bigger sea creatures.
“Snails have a marketing problem because they are small and in general are considered joke animals because they are slow and slimy,” Tony Whitten, Fauna & Flora International’s Asia regional director told the Guardian.
That doesn't mean snails aren't important. If nature has taught us anything, it's that when one species disappears, the cascading effects on other species can be devastating. Snails can be bird food and help decompose leaf litter.
According to Whitten, though, the ecological role of snails is often ignored in environmental impact assessments, making them susceptible to being blasted to extinction.
“No cement business has ever admitted the scale of the problem,” added Whitten. “They tout their biodiversity pages in their websites and sustainability reports with pictures of ducks and frogs and children enjoying the wetlands created from the hills they remove. They give and receive prizes for their restoration work – but do not acknowledge what is being lost.”