Category Archives: Inform

Preserving the health of the Rio de la Plata

rio-del-plata-estuary
NASA astronaut photograph of the Río de la Plata estuary looking west-east. Greater Buenos Aires on the right side of the picture, and Montevideo on the left side. Image source: NASA / Earth Observatory

By Paul Halpern

An ambitious multi-disciplinary “virtual institution,” set up by researchers from Uruguay and Canada, is improving the management and conservation of the 300 kilometre-wide Rio de la Plata, South America’s largest estuary.

“It’s not enough to study sand mining, document where it has happened, and show how it adversely affects the community,” says Dr Robert Fournier, professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “You need to stop it from happening by proposing policies and regulations that say ‘You cannot mine sand on the beaches of Uruguay any more’.”

Ten years of collaborative research by Uruguayan and Canadian researchers on the Rio de la Plata estuary may lead to just those kinds of decisions to preserve the estuary and conserve its valuable resources. The results to date — a wealth of data on many aspects of the river system and coast — have led to the creation of a multistakeholder commission to addresss the region’s problems. In the process, a valuable collaborative network has emerged.

A river system in peril

The Rio de la Plata estuary — the widest in the world — originates at the junction of the Uruguay and Parana rivers. Its watershed begins in central Brazil, at the divide between the Amazon and the Rio de la Plata basins. On its 1,000 kilometre journey to the sea, the Rio de la Plata collects water from many rivers that flow from the highlands of Brazil, Northern Argentina, the south of Brazil, and Paraguay. Before emptying into the Atlantic, the river passes by Montevideo (population 1.5 million), the resort city of Punta del Este (population 500,000 at peak vacation period) on the northern coast, and Buenos Aires (population 13 million) on its southern boundary.

A wide range of aquatic species thrive in the estuary which separates Uruguay and Argentina, making the Rio de la Plata system the main fishing grounds for both artisanal fishers and an inshore industrial fleet.

But the estuary faces many complex problems. Close to 70 percent of Uruguay’s 3.3 million people, for instance, live within 100 kilometres of the coast. Human activity creates marine pollution and accelerates beach and dune erosion. Deforestation and mechanized agriculture also cause soil erosion, which leads to sedimentation. In addition, inappropriate sand mining techniques contribute to coastal degradation. Fisheries are also being rapidly depleted. Not surprisingly, the ecosystem’s deterioration is affecting both local populations and the tourism industry.

Virtual institution, real collaboration

Canada began to take an interest in the Rio de la Plata in 1991 when, during a state visit to Canada, Uruguayan President Louis Lacalle signed a memorandum of understanding with Dalhousie University. Drawing on this agreement, President Lacalle proposed a “university of the sea” at Punta del Este.

After visiting Uruguay in 1992, however, Dr Fournier and Anthony Tillett, of Dalhousie’s Lester B. Pearson International Institute, had a different idea: to create a “virtual institution” that would bring together Canadian and Uruguayan agencies to identify and address coastal zone problems. Two years later, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) launched the Integrated Coastal Zone Management of the Rio de la Plata Support Program, which has become known as the EcoPlata project.

EcoPlata began modestly. At first, “it was an attempt to determine whether we could help the participants work together,” says Dr Fournier. The partners included the Faculty of Science at Uruguay’s Universidad de la República; the Servicio de Oceanografía, Hidrografía y Meteorología de la Armada (SOHMA); the Instituto Nacional de Pesca (INAPE); and REDES — Amigos de la Tierra, a nongovernmental organization. Canadian participants included IDRC; Dalhousie University; Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia; and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

A first investigation focused on how environmental factors and human activities affect the spawning and nursery grounds of the “white croaker” or corvina, an important species for both artisanal and commercial fisheries. The corvina accounts for about 14 percent of the total catch in the estuary, but fishing yields have been dropping in recent years.

“This was a key cross-cutting issue,” says Dr Fournier. “It allowed physicists, chemists, biologists, geologists, and so forth to work together on the same question: what is it about sediments, about pollutants, about water circulation that influences the croaker and has a long-term effect on its success?”

While this effort generated a number of valuable studies, it also proved that the participating institutions could work effectively as a team. The result? In 1997, when the EcoPlata initiative was renewed, both its scope and level of financial support expanded significantly.

A broader effort

The broader EcoPlata project is pursuing a number of approaches examining the perspectives for sustainably developing the estuary. These include:

  • establishing a multi-stakeholder integrated coastal zone management initiative involving research in fisheries, oceanography, environmental protection, and urban planning;
  • developing a coastal policy and planning framework with national and municipal authorities;
  • establishing sustainable financial mechanisms for coastal management;
  • promoting Canadian partnerships; and
  • fostering technology transfer for coastal management.

Funders include IDRC, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and Uruguay’s Ministry of Housing, Territorial Planning, and Environment.

In the four years since this initiative was launched, researchers have initiated a variety of activities. They began by assessing the Uruguayan side of the estuary. Using the data obtained, they developed a geographic information system to help with planning. The project identified three pilot sites, which enabled the team to focus its energies on areas with high potential, and then replicate results elsewhere.

Researchers also monitored trends — temperature, tides, salinity, and nutrient content, as well as water contamination, pressure on resources, beach erosion, and solid waste on the beaches. Ultimately, the team addressed some of the more critical issues, including the need to protect coastal areas through the creation of parkland, and to reduce the impact of solid waste pollution around communities without access to adequate sanitation services.

From research to policy

The Uruguayan government has committed CAN$430,000 to continue EcoPlata over the next three years. According to Dr Fournier, one of the most important indicators of success will be how participants translate the research into effective policies. The thematic GIS-based maps on the coastal area, for example, address issues such as land cover, actual land use, infrastructure, agricultural output, industrial activities, services, demographic data, and artisanal fisheries. The team will use this data to propose policy guidelines for more sustainable practices.

As a result of this ongoing effort, the EcoPlata project has gained credibility with policymakers. This was clearly manifested in May 2001, when the Uruguayan government created a special commission to address the Rio de la Plata coastal zone. The commission brings together national and municipal authorities, as well as coastal police and tourism institutions. Given its growing stature and networking capacity, EcoPlata was appointed as the commission’s Technical Secretariat.

Paul Halpern is a science and environment writer based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

For more information:
Dr Robert O. Fournier, Professor, Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 3J5;

Dr Walter Couto, Project leader (Uruguay), Pza. Cagancha 1335, 11200 Montevideo, Uruguay

Original Article, IDRC Canada (09-28-2001)

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.

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.

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)

Mitch Yost

In this video, Mitch Yost participates in a long forgotten PSA to help cross border water pollution in Imperial Beach, CA. The video was found on a faded VHS tape by a local IB resident at a yard sale. Discovering the Yost PSA on the tape, the resident uploaded it to share with other fans of 70’s era soul surfer. Hope you enjoy this little relic from the JFC series.

Mining Of Coastal Sand: A Critical Environmental And Economic Problem For Morocco


Photo source: ©SAF

Summary

In Morocco, the extraction of beach and dune sand for use in the construction industry is destroying significant portions of the nation’s natural heritage. The authors of this report have significant experience in evaluating coastal mining worldwide. We believe that the coastal sand mining operations that we witnessed in Morocco are the world’s largest. In addition, the environmental impacts of the sand extraction are likewise enormous. Beach mining, mainly near Morocco’s major coastal cities, has created lunar-like landscapes on the coast, destroyed the littoral marine ecosystem, is endangering adjacent wetlands, and has significantly increased the vulnerability of coastal infrastructure to storms and rising sea level. Once beautiful coastal dunes have been entirely removed along long reaches of shoreline. This is a potential economic disaster for coastal tourism in Morocco. Many beaches have been so heavily impacted by mining that they have been rendered unusable for touristic development. For the sake of its future generations, Morocco should halt the mining of coastal sand now and find new sources of aggregate.

The authors base the following report on fieldwork conducted in Summer 2007 and on interviews with local, coastal residents.

Introduction to the Issue

Most open-ocean shorelines have sand deposits that exist in equilibrium with wave, current and wind processes. This sand exists in several connected environments. Onshore there are beaches, with sand deposited by waves and currents, and sand dunes deposited by the wind. Offshore, there is sand stored on the shoreface (reaching from the beach out to a depth of 10 m or so) and in deltas (tidal and river). These deposits are linked to one another such that addition or removal of sand from one area affects all of the other environments. For this paper, we refer to all sand deposits that are connected to (i.e. are currently shrinking or growing) the present marine environment as the coastal sand body. Some coasts have sand bodies that are somewhat disconnected from the modern coastal sand deposits. This sand may occur well below or above present sea level representing deposits formed in the past when the level of the ocean was higher or lower than today.

Beaches can provide a cheap source of sand for use in concrete and for a variety of other construction purposes. Beach sand is inexpensive because it is already unconsolidated and is easy to remove with front-end loaders or even by hand loading of trucks. The continuous activity of surf zone waves provides a well-sorted sand that is free of mud. Perhaps most significantly, beaches are often not privately owned, they are public, and represent a “free” source of aggregate to those willing to take it.

Most beach sand is derived locally from sea cliff erosion or from rivers that drain the upland (Figures 1 and 2).

The sand grains travel along a particular beach either by shore-parallel or shore- perpendicular transport in surf zone currents formed by waves. Speaking in general terms, the Moroccan coast has a very large coastal sand body resupplied by regular erosion of cliffs and episodic injections from rivers in flood. The Moroccan coastal sand body is much larger than the coastal sand bodies of the East and Gulf coasts of North America. We can only assume that those engaged in sand mining in Morocco believe that they will do little harm because the original sand deposits were so large. Sadly, this is not the case.

Mining of beach and dune sand is a global phenomenon. In recognition of the damage that such mining does and of the need to preserve beaches for future generations, mining has effectively been halted in many countries. Yet, it remains an important global problem. We have recently documented environmentally damaging beach mining in more than 30 countries worldwide.

Mining of coastal sand bodies has gone on for as long as humans have lived near the shore. Initially it occurred on a bucketful scale and at a local level. Now it occurs on the scale of long lines of large dump trucks containing more than 10 cubic meters of sand each. As humans have devised more efficient ways to remove large volumes of sand and as shorefront development has simultaneously increased, coastal sand mining has become a major global problem.

We believe that at the present time, the most extensive mining of onshore coastal sand in the world occurs in Morocco. In July, 2007, we observed an operation that likely involved the removal of hundreds of dump trucks of coastal sand in a single day (Figure 3). Many coastal environments have been removed completely over hundreds of hectares. The damage is stunning and saddening.

The problems created by sand mining are numerous. Below is a brief summary focusing on the problems recently documented in Morocco.

  • Potential tourism site destruction Many mining sites on the coast of Morocco are remote, but fabulously beautiful (Figure 4). While maintaining a healthy ecosystem, hotel complexes could readily be constructed within the still-extensive coastal sand dunes of Morocco. The seasonal dry, sunny weather, warm coastal ocean with excellent surfing and swimming opportunities and proximity to existing international airports in Casablanca, Rabat and Tangiers represent an extraordinary combination of conditions conducive to tourism. Sand mining has turned these sites into ugly moonscapes that no tourist would want to visit. With the sand gone, the beaches are too hard for lounging on. They are even difficult to walk on.
  • Coastal ecosystem loss Sand mining has resulted in the total destruction of the coastal ecosystems in many areas of northern Morocco. This includes the beach (impacting nesting shorebirds and sea turtles), the dunes (impacting rare endemic vegetation), and coastal wetlands (impacting migratory waterfowl among other organisms).
  • Destruction of the nearshore marine ecosystem Removal of beach sand can also impact the nearshore distribution of sand on the shoreface (in shallow water). Anytime the nature of the nearshore bottom sediment is changed, there is a corollary ecosystem change. Many organisms are adapted to a particular substrate.
  • Aesthetics/Lunar landscape end result It is hard to imagine how ugly some of the mined sites in Morocco are.
  • No sand reserve for natural beach storm response Large beaches and large coastal dunes can provide excellent protection from storms, tsunamis, and other large wave events. Beach mining increases the vulnerability of all coastal infrastructure and ecosystems that were once protected.
  • Increased shoreline erosion rates Removing sand from the beach and from adjacent dunes will increase the shoreline erosion rate for the impacted shoreline (even as rising sea level increases the threat of long-term coastal erosion). In addition, neighboring, unmined shorelines may also see an increase in erosion as the shoreline reaches a new equilibrium.
  • Destruction of archaeological sites Removal of coastal sand can directly and indirectly threaten coastal archaeological resources.

The seasonal dry, sunny weather, warm coastal ocean with excellent surfing and swimming opportunities and proximity to existing international airports in Casablanca, Rabat and Tangiers represent an extraordinary combination of conditions conducive to tourism. Sand mining has turned these sites into ugly moonscapes that no tourist would want to visit. With the sand gone, the beaches are too hard for lounging on. They are even difficult to walk on.

Types of coastal sand mining in Morocco

We observed several types of coastal sand mining south of Tangiers in Morocco in July, 2007. The following examples are listed in order of the degree of economic and environmental damage. The first approach, bluff top mining is the least damaging and direct mining of the intertidal zone is the most damaging.

  • Bluff top mining – This approach is currently active in the extensive operations south of Larache (Figure 5). The sand being removed here, in spite of its location well above the local beach and dune, may still be a part of the active coastal sand system. That is, the sand here may still occasionally supply new sand to the beach in processes such as storm recovery. More important, however, is the loss of a beautiful and rare dune system with a rare ecosystem adjusted to much wind and salt spray. The lost dune would have been an asset for a future touristic development because of its safe location with commanding views high above the sea. In addition, these areas represent potential archaeological sites. They should be surveyed before they are mined. National treasures are at risk. Nevertheless, mining these perched dunes is less destructive to the coastal ecosystem than the mining listed below.
  • Back dune mining – Large reaches of Morocco’s massive coastal dune complex have been entirely removed by sand mining creating a landscape with deep pits and steep slopes hazardous to passersby (Figure 6). It seems obvious that these areas will continue to be mined and in future decades the sand pits will extend to the beach. This is the general pattern of coastal sand mining in Morocco; mine the dune first and when it no longer exists, mine the beach itself. Even though many of these sand pits are not visible from the beach, the hazards to dune hikers they afford and their aesthetic limitations effectively preclude future touristic development along long stretches of the coast.
  • Beach Mining 1: Long, flat beach on coastal plain– This abandoned mining site represents the impacts of mining on a relatively flat plain immediately adjacent to the beach. The beach is flat and wide at low tide and relatively narrow at high tide (Figure 7). The rocky layers that once were buried in sand replace dunes. The dune ecosystem is completely gone. Back-dune vegetation is dying because it is no longer protected from salt spray and wind by dunes. Wetlands are at risk because of sand and salt intrusion. The coastal road to Tangier will occasionally be flooded and perhaps even eroded in places in future storms due to the lack of protective dunes. The beach will not experience normal storm recovery because of the lack of dune sand and erosion (shoreline retreat) rates can be expected to increase significantly in future years. Present and future buildings constructed to get a sea view will be endangered in future storms.
  • sand-mining-maroc
    Photo source: ©SAF

  • Beach Mining 2: narrow beach backed by “lunar landscape”— This abandoned mining site is the endpoint of mining coastal sand on a beach backed by relatively steep inland slopes (Figure 8). In this undeveloped area no buildings or infrastructure are threatened. A beautiful potential touristic development site is completely eliminated and because of the ugliness of the mined site adjacent to the beach and the “attractive nuisance” hazard to hikers. It is fair to say that no future tourism site is feasible as such for miles in either direction. The loss of overall sand volumes at this site is likely to increase overall shoreline retreat rates on adjacent shorelines in both directions.

The Solutions

Future mining of the modern coastal sand body should be avoided. There are numerous alternative sources of sand available, most of which will be at least slightly more expensive than the presently used coastal sand.

On all coasts with low inland slopes, “fossil” coastal sand bodies exist that were deposited in the geologic past when the level of the ocean was higher or lower than today. These older sand bodies are often no longer directly connected to modern coastal ecosystems. Such sand bodies, where they are present, offer promise as sand mining sites that would be much less damaging than the mining of the current coastal sand body that is in equilibrium with the sea.

In Europe and North America, where population density is very high near that coast, offshore mining of sand is a common occurrence. Morocco possesses extensive higher-than-present coastal sand deposits (Figure 9), and likely harbors substantial offshore reserves. Finally, crushing rock is an alternative that many Caribbean Island nations have turned to.

If mining continues on some limited basis, reclamation (reshaping) of the impacted landscapes must be required. In some areas reclamation of existing, abandoned mining sites should be considered.

Future regulations and decisions concerning sand mining in Morocco should consider the need to provide future generations of Moroccans with high quality, healthy beaches. The long term economic potential of healthy, beautiful beaches is huge and is worthy of extensive efforts to preserve them.

Orrin H. Pilkey, James B Duke Professor of Earth Sciences Emeritus Nicholas School of the Environmenmt Duke University Durham, NC, USA

Robert S. Young, Director, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC, USA

Joseph Kelley, Chairman, Department of Earth Sciences University of Maine at Orono Orono, ME, USA

Adam D. Griffith, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC, USA

California panel urges immediate action to protect from rising sea levels

Maldives President Nasheer
President Mohamed Nasheed signs a declaration during the first underwater cabinet meeting in the Maldives

By Margot Roosevelt

As California officials see it, global warming is happening so there’s no time to waste in figuring out what to do.

California’s interagency Climate Action Team on Wednesday issued the first of 40 reports on impacts and adaptation, outlining what the state’s residents must do to deal with the floods, erosion and other effects expected from rising sea levels.

Hundreds of thousands of people and billions of dollars of Golden State infrastructure and property would be at risk if ocean levels rose 55 inches by the end of the century, as computer models suggest, according to the report.

The group floated several radical proposals: limit coastal development in areas at risk from sea rise; consider phased abandonment of certain areas; halt federally subsidized insurance for property likely to be inundated; and require coastal structures to be built to adapt to climate change.

“Immediate action is needed,” said Linda Adams, secretary for environmental protection. “It will cost significantly less to combat climate change than it will to maintain a business-as-usual approach.”

Few topics are likely to be more contentious than coastal development. But along the state’s 2,000-mile shoreline the effects would be acute, particularly in San Mateo and Orange counties, where more than 100,000 people would be affected, according to the 99-page state-commissioned report by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute.

Detailed maps of the coastline, published on the institute’s website, show that residential neighborhoods in Venice and Marina del Rey could find themselves in a flood zone. Water could cover airports in San Francisco and Oakland, parts of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and large swaths of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.

Roads, schools, hospitals, sewage plants and power plants may have to be relocated. More than 330 hazardous waste sites are at risk from floods.

“The rising sea level could be California’s version of Hurricane Katrina,” said Michael Woo, a Los Angeles planning commissioner and urban planning professor at USC. “Taxpayers and insurance ratepayers might question their responsibility to help homeowners and businesses which knowingly build in high-risk coastal areas.”

California’s far-reaching adaptation initiative reflects an emerging global consensus: Scientists can argue over how fast the Earth is heating up and diplomats can wrangle over emissions caps, but politicians must begin planning for the certainty of climate change.

Maldives Underwater Meeting