Documenting The Global Impacts Of Beach Sand Mining

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By R. Young and A. Griffith

For centuries, beach sand has been mined for use as aggregate in concrete, for heavy minerals, and for construction fill. The global extent and impact of this phenomenon has gone relatively unnoticed by academics, NGOs, and major news sources. Most reports of sand mining activities are found at the very local scale (if the mining is ever documented at all). Yet, sand mining in many localities has resulted in the complete destruction of beach (and related) ecosystems along with severe impacts to coastal protection and tourism.

The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University and CoastalCare.org have initiated the construction of a global database of beach sand mining activities. The database is being built through a combination of site visits and through the data mining of media resources, peer reviewed papers, and reports from private and governmental entities. Currently, we have documented sand mining in 35 countries on 6 continents representing the removal of millions of cubic meters of sand.

Problems extend from Asia where critical infrastructure has been disrupted by sand mining to the Caribbean where policy reform has swiftly followed a highly publicized theft of sand. The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines recently observed extensive sand mining in Morocco at the regional scale. Tens of kilometers of beach have been stripped of sand and the mining continues southward reducing hope of a thriving tourism-based economy.

Problems caused by beach sand mining include: destruction of natural beaches and the ecosystems they protect (e.g. dunes, wetlands), habitat loss for globally important species (e.g. turtles, shorebirds), destruction of nearshore marine ecosystems, increased shoreline erosion rates, reduced protection from storms, tsunamis, and wave events, and economic losses through tourist abandonment and loss of coastal aesthetics.

The threats posed by sand mining are made even more critical given the prospect of a significant rise in global sea level over the coming decades. Most governments recognize the local impacts of sand mining and mining activities are illegal in many localities. However, enforcement of these protections has been problematic and there has been little pressure to stop the practice from local or international environmental groups.

In many cases, addressing the issue of sand mining requires addressing the local issues that allow it to persist. This includes poverty, corruption, and unregulated development. In areas where beach sand mining significantly supports the local economy, care needs to be given that local workers are given alternative means of income, and builders are provided an affordable substitute for the sand (e.g. crushed rock). Regardless, it is time for both academics and NGOs to address the cumulative environmental impacts of the direct destruction of the world’s beaches through mining activities.

Assawoman Island; By Andrew Cooper

Assawoman Island, Virginia

By Andrew Cooper

Assawoman Island is in Virginia, USA on the peninsula of land between the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay. Like many of the world’s barrier islands, Assawoman Island has been migrating landward for decades. Evidence for this can be found in the sea shells on the beach, multiple overwash fans (both pictured), and the occurrence of marsh mud balls on the beach.

This overwash fan formed during a storm when a low point in the dune line allowed storm waves to overtop the island and cover the marsh with beach and offshore sand. The process of overwash allows island to migrate towards the mainland by removing sand from the front of the island and adding it to the back.

Examining the seashells on the beach gives another indication that the island is moving toward the mainland. The dominant shell species on the beach are back-barrier fauna, such as oysters. These organisms lived in the estuary behind the island before they were buried by the island migrating toward the mainland. As the island migrates landward, these shells become exposed in the surf zone (where waves break). With each storm that passes, they are churned up and transported onto the beach. The dark colors of the shells indicate that they have not been exposed to the sun for long periods of time.

The large number of shells also highlights the lack of any public access to this beach. Months go by without much human activity at all making it a prime nesting site for the federally threatened piping plover.  The pristine condition of Assawoman Island make it Beachcare.org’s June 2009 Beach of the Month.

Oil spills on the worlds beaches and in the worlds oceans

oil-on-sand-coastal-care
Photograph: © SAF – Coastal Care

By Linda Pilkey-Jarvis

Beaches and river shorelines all over the world are at risk from oil spills. Spills are most likely to occur while oil is transported or transferred between oil tankers, barges, pipelines, refineries, and distribution or storage facilities. Spills may also occur during natural disasters (such as hurricanes), or through deliberate acts by countries at war, sunken ships, vandals, or illegal dumpers.

Risk and Prevention

Oil spill risk is a function of consequence and probability. Spills from tankers for example may have a low probability of occurring due to efforts to prevent spills, but are high consequence events when they do occur because of the type of oil and huge volume that could be spilled. By contrast, spills from oil terminals may occur more frequently (high probability), but may be low consequence events because of the smaller volume being stored or transferred.

Oil spill risk changes over time. Today, tank ships are constructed with double hulls to reduce the risk, while they are built to carry larger and larger volumes of oil. In other words the beach disaster is less likely but if it occurs it will be larger. Eco-tourism takes vessels into formerly remote areas of the world, such as the Antarctic. Around the world our pipelines are aging yet are becoming a larger source for oil movement. In certain areas our oceans, especially in the South Pacific, sunken ships from past wars are beginning to lose their integrity and release oil. The intensity of storms around the world is changing and the threat to our offshore drilling facilities is increasing. An unknown amount of oil was released throughout Hurricane Ike in September of 2008 as it struck Galveston Island in the United States.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure for our precious and valuable marine environments. Preventing all spills may not be an attainable goal but prevention can certainly reduce the frequency and severity of spills. Prevention activities include thorough training of people, proper equipment maintenance, adequate staffing and limiting work hours, internal and independent auditing of oil practices, company policies and cultures that focus on prevention.

Planning for Aggressive and Effective Response to Spills

Spills cannot entirely be prevented so the second line of defense is preparing for the possibility. This means developing an active “culture of preparedness” for continuous improvement and initiative rather than reaction. Preparedness perfects response and fights complacency.

Preparedness includes:

  • Requirements to report spills to government agencies.
  • Developing oil spill plans.
  • Pre-staging equipment and training professional response personnel.
  • Drills to test the plans and then uses lessons learned to strengthen the plans.
  • Computer modeling to understand trajectories of spoiled oil, fate & effect in the environment.

Involving beach communities in planning is important. Sometime tradeoffs have to be considered. The concept of balancing environmental risk and sensitivities against socio-economic factors (e.g. fisheries, tourism) in order to determine the most appropriate techniques and level of cleanliness (sometimes referred to as “net environmental benefit analysis”) is well known and widely accepted.

Type of Oil

One of the most significant factors in any spill is the type of oil spilled, especially its probable persistence on the beach and in the marine environment. Non-persistent oils include light refined products (e.g. gasoline) which are highly volatile materials with low viscosities. These oils tend to evaporate rapidly and because of the ease with which they disperse and dissipate naturally there is usually only a limited requirement for cleanup. Such oils may, however, pose a significant fire and explosion hazard as well as cause public health concerns if they occur close to crowded beaches or other places where people gather. They may also cause significant environmental impacts due to their high concentration of toxic components but, as these same components evaporate rapidly, any such effects will usually be highly localized.

At the other end of the spectrum of oil types are heavy crudes and heavy fuel oils. These oils are highly persistent when spilled due to their greater proportion of non-volatile components and high viscosity.

Biofuel Oils: Biofuel based oils are gaining in use and demand. Many non-petroleum oils have similar physical properties as petroleum based oil, their solubility in water is limited, they both create slicks on the surface of water, and they both form emulsions and sludge. In addition, non-petroleum oils tend to be persistent, remaining in the environment for long periods of time.

Fate and Effect of Spilled Oil

Oil floats on water and very heavy oil can sometimes sink making it hard to collect. Oil spreads out rapidly across the water surface to form a thin layer called l an oil slick. In its thinnest form, it is called a sheen (often seen as rainbow colored).

At the same time as it moves and fragments, it also undergoes physical and chemical changes, collectively termed weathering. Most of these weathering processes, such as evaporation, dispersion, dissolution and sedimentation, lead to the disappearance of oil from the sea surface. On the other hand, the formation of water-in-oil emulsions (“mousse”) and the accompanying increase in viscosity as the oil absorbs up to four times its own volume of water, promote the oil’s persistence. Oil can form emulsions or end up as tar balls and pats on shorelines or travel long distances at sea.

Large oil spills can be very harmful to birds and marine mammals, fish and shellfish and all sorts of natural, cultural and economic resources. However, even a smaller spill may prove much more harmful than a larger spill if it occurs at the wrong time or season and in a sensitive environment.

Response Techniques

People may use any of the following kinds of tools to clean up or minimize impacts from spilled oil:

  • Mechanical recovery using booms, which are floating barriers to oil (for example, a big boom may be placed around a tanker that is leaking oil, to collect the oil or around sensitive areas to deflect the oil).
  • On-water recovery using skimmers, which are used on boats to remove spilled oil from the water surface. Skimmers can also work from vacuum trucks, which can vacuum spilled oil off of beaches or the water surface.
  • Sorbents, which are natural or synthetic materials used to absorb oil.
  • Chemical dispersants and biological agents, which break down the oil into its chemical constituents but this may add pollutants to the sea floor.
  • In-situ burning, which is a method of burning freshly-spilled oil, usually while it’s floating on the water.
  • Washing oil off beaches with either high-pressure or low-pressure hoses. Or shovels and road equipment, which are sometimes used to pick up oil or move oiled beach sand and gravel down to where it can be cleaned by being tumbled around in the waves.
  • Deterrence or scare tactics to keep wildlife from the spill area and Wildlife Rehabilitation stations where oiled wildlife can be rescued and cleaned.
  • No response. Sometimes, people may decide not to response at all to a spill, because in some cases, responding isn’t helpful or even adds to the damage from the spill.

Determining How to Remove Oil from Beaches

There is a standardized survey technique called Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Teams (SCAT) used around the world. The basic concepts of a SCAT survey are:

  • a systematic assessment of all shorelines in the affected area,
  • a division of the coast into geographic units or “segments” and,
  • a set of standard terms and definitions and documentation.

Cleanup techniques depend on the type of beach, degree of exposure to waves and currents, and biological sensitivity. Learn more.

Things you can do to prevent future wars for oil:

  • Reduce energy use
  • Drive slower.
  • Accelerate slower
  • Buy local
  • Drink tap water, not water in oil based bottles
  • Bike and walk when possible
  • Carpool
  • Resist impulse buying
  • Take care of power equipment
  • Use manual tools when possible
  • Use energy efficient lighting
  • In the winter, wear a sweater around the house

Trash Pollution

Mumbai, India
View Pollution Gallery

Trash pollution and contamination of beaches and nearshore waters is a global problem. In the United States in 2006, water samples from 92 beaches in 19 different states exceeded public health standards for pollutants. Offshore sewer outfalls, faulty (or non-existent) septic systems, non-point source agricultural run-off and increased sedimentation from logging and agriculture are common problems. Recently, beach nourishment (pumping sand onto the beach) has become a major source of fine sediment pollution (southern Spain, southeast Florida), causing harm to many nearshore ecosystems, particularly hard grounds and reef. Discarded trash can become a component of nonpoint source pollution runoff. Plastics, metals and other types of trash often harm animals and plants. Plastics and metals degrade very slowly over time and can leach harmful chemicals into the environment. These materials can also contribute to the transmission of disease. In addition, trash simply degrades the beauty of an area.

Runoff is also a major problem. Urban areas with large numbers of automobiles, trucks, and large transportation systems are major sources of oil based pollution into soils and paved surfaces. Rain washes surface pollutants to streams where they eventually course towards the oceans. Degraded water quality affects coastal ecosystems.

Cedar Island, NC; By Andrew Cooper

Cedar Island, NC

By Andrew Cooper

Cedar Island, North Carolina, USA is an east – west trending island along the southern rim of Pamlico Sound. It is a fetch limited barrier island and beach, not subjected to open ocean waves. The breakwaters, visible in the photo, protect the landing for the ferry to Ocracoke Island. For more than 50 years there has been a well maintained fence along the road here to keep cattle and wild horses off the parking lot where cars line up for the ferry. As a result of the fence, grazing has been prevented on the western half of the island (in the lower part of the photo) while the eastern half of the island has been extensively overgrazed.

Where there has been no grazing, vegetated dunes have formed and a dark green rim of trees at the back of the island exists. On the overgrazed part of the island there are no dunes, very little forest and the island is almost featureless and flat. The beach on the ungrazed part is narrow and backed with dunes (see photo). The beach where the vegetation has been removed by grazers is wider and more or less merges with the island (shown in the photo of the Canadian Geese).

The normal yellow brown color of modern beach sands in the southeastern US is due to iron staining on shells and on the surface of quartz grains. Here on Cedar Island the sand is white because the iron staining (and the shells) were removed by long weathering in an ice age sand deposit which furnished the sand for the island. Note the double line of surf indicating that there are two offshore bars.

This photo was taken on a March, 2009 flight by Andrew Cooper.

Benin: Erosion-inducing coastal sand mining to be outlawed

sand-tracks
Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

Excerpts;

Faced with rising sea levels and coastal erosion caused in part by coastal sand mining, carting away of free beach sand for commercial uses, the national government has begun a campaign to save its coastal sand by digging up sand inland, instead. But communities near these newly-created sand collection spots are fighting back…

Read Full Article, IRIN (10-03-2008)

Morocco; By Lana Wong

Morocco by Lana Wong

By © Lana Wong

Inspired by the rugged beauty of the Moroccan coast, Lana Wong photographed this scene in the summer of 2005. We are pleased to feature it as our Photo of the Month for April 2009.

Lana Wong is an American photographer based in Paris. She founded and directed the Shootback Project, a youth photography and development program in Nairobi, Kenya which culminated in the publication of Shootback: Photos by Kids from the Nairobi Slums. Wong studied photography at Harvard University, and the Royal College of Art, London.

The mission of the Santa Aguila Foundation is to raise awareness of and mobilize people against the ongoing decimation of coastlines around the world.

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