We urge you to become part of the movement by submitting the following petition:
The petition to end beach sand mining is a non-political effort.
We urge you to become part of the movement by submitting the following petition:
The petition to end beach sand mining is a non-political effort.
Indonesia. Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care
With more than 17,000 islands — from the jungly immensities of Borneo and Sumatra to unnamed rocks jutting out of the sea — you might think that Indonesia would not mind if a few of them went missing. But the South-East Asian nation is fighting a losing battle against black marketeers who are, literally, making off with its territory by the boat-load…
Since 2005 at least 24 small islands have disappeared as a result of erosion caused by sand mining…
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.
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.
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.
The broader EcoPlata project is pursuing a number of approaches examining the perspectives for sustainably developing the estuary. These include:
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.
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
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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.
Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care
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…
Photo source: ©SAF
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo source: ©SAF
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
Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 30/12/2008: Pipes used for the filling of Boeung Kak lake with sand dredged from the Mekong.
By Corinne Callebaut and Ros Dina
Since Singapore was banned from mining sand in Indonesia, the city-state – which surface area covers less than 650 km2 – is struggling to fiand the sand it needs for its gigantic land reclamation and construction projects. As a result, it turned to a much less discriminating country, where the buying cost of sand remains quite inexpensive, Cambodia. For the last year, the provinces of Koh Kong and Kandal have seen a heavy traffic of boats, which sometimes arrive in dozens to dredge the seabed or dig along the coasts to collect as much sand as possible and export it to Singapore. There, companies will sell it for as much as four times the initial price, according to environmentalist NGO Global Witness, who also points at the lack of transparency around this market. Something that stirs greed but also worries marine conservation organisations, who fear the impact of the intensive exploitation. Justifiably so, as villagers have already complained with the authorities after the resulting collapse of their houses.
Koh Kong is known for its lush nature and hilly jungle, but the coastal province has also become a heaven… for dredgers, which are characterised by their imposing iron structure. For a few months, large boats coming to dredge the seabed have approached the shores of the province. Their goal: to fill up their barge with hundreds of tonnes of sand. Does the Cambodian rock dust possess any property ignored by all until recently? Actually, as Singapore has felt a little too cramped in its 647 km2 territory, it has urgently looked for great quantities of sand, an essential component of concrete.
As the city-state had long exhausted its own supplies of sand, neighbouring Indonesia was its main supplier for many years. But in February 2007, the latter put an end to sand exports towards Singapore by imposing a ban that is still in force, as the relationship between Singapore and Indonesia remains conflicting. The reason: the intensive dredging by the smallest nation in Southeast Asia has reportedly resulted in the archipelago losing several islands, that were literally devoured by excavators. Authorities even expressed fear that the losses may jeopardise their territorial sovereignty. “Sand mining had caused very severe environmental damage in Indonesia, including in the islands of Sebayik and Nipah,” Desra Percaya, spokesperson of Indonesian Foreign Ministry, had then declared in Indonesian daily Jakarta Post.
Losing its main supplier, Singapore had worried about the higher cost of importing sand if it had to find other suppliers somewhere else and even forecast an increase by 3% of the price in relation to Indonesian sand. In their search for inexpensive sand, the barges of sand companies eventually dropped anchor off the coasts of Cambodia. The Kingdom offers not only unbeatable prices but also comparatively favourable conditions.
In its report entiteld “Country for Sale ” made public on Thursday February 5th, Global Witness, an NGO specialised in monitoring natural resource management and campaigning on human rights, devotes three pages to the opacity which it says surrounds the trade of sand in Cambodia. Several witnesses interrogated by the organisation have thus reported that many ships belonging to Chinese, Korean or Taiwanese companies, came to purchase sand off the coasts of Koh Kong province, with the intention for all to export it to Singapore. The organisation spoke to workers who reportedly claimed that documents, contracts and payments were all directed to the office of Ly Yong Phat, a Senator affiliated with the ruling party CPP who dominates business enterprise in the province and is often criticised by human rights organisations for the forced evictions of residents from the many lands he has acquired.
“I completely refute the allegations from Global Witness,” Ly Yong Phat replied in a telephone interview to Ka-set. “The government has granted me this concession for sand mining, so it is normal that I am the referee. Besides, I am not the only one responsible, there is also another person. I am in charge of the area of Koh Pao and Svay Ambel rivers, and since I started to be in charge of the mining, floods have stopped happening. I even denied authorisation to a Thai company because there was not enough sand… I think exports in the province do not exceed 4,000 tonnes a month.”
Also contacted by Ka-set, Pech Siyon, head of the industry office in Koh Kong, estimates the quantity of sand dredged around Koh Kong province to be between 7,000 and 8,000 tonnes a week. “Three companies have been authorised to mine sand for about one year: Ly Yong Phat Group Company [owned by the above-mentioned Senator], Odom Cement Company Ltd and Dani Trading. Each exploits specific zones,” he explains. “Apart from these companies, no one else has the right to mine sand. Some do it but under the direction of the three companies who have received official approval.”
Global Witness estimates that nearly 15,000 tonnes of sand are exported each week… which would mean an annual revenue of 8.6 million dollars for the sand industry in Koh Kong province.
In addition to the lack of transparency over this market, another source of concern exists: the risk that the intensive pumping might endanger deep-sea ecosystems. Following the example of the disappearance and collapse of islands in Indonesia, Cambodia unfortunately seems to also suffer from the intensive sand dredging.
For example, inland, despite the bans from the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, many ships have come to extract sand in tributaries of the Tonle Bassac, in the area of Takhmau, in Kandal province. Yet, many villagers have complained with authorities that their house and land started to collapse, which had never happened before. According to a member of an NGO very active on environmental issues related to the Tonle Bassac, who prefers to speak anonymously, “the dredging has become intensive for some time. It is mobile dredging, boats are constantly moving from one place to another. It is completely illegal, but in spite of many promises, the government does not seem very active in fighting these activities.”
For his part, a worker of another environmental organisation, who also prefers to speak under anonymity, worries about the possible impact of intensive sand dredging on the seabed. “For now, we have not observed a direct impact on deep-sea ecosystems. However, we remain very concerned with the potential consequences it could have on the fragile marine life – on sea horses for example or on all the benthic species, like lichen or algae.” Echoing these words, the OSPAR Commission – in charge of implementing the current legal instrument guiding international cooperation on the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic – has precisely insisted in its recommendations on the potential impact of sand dredging in marine environment. “All dredged materials have a significant physical impact at the point of disposal. This impact includes covering of the seabed and local increases in suspended solids levels. (…) Biological consequences of these physical impacts include smothering of benthic organisms in the dumping area.”
Yet, the conservationist believes in a solution that would enable Cambodia to continue benefiting from sand extraction while protecting nature. “Every company involved in the extractive industry or likely to have an impact on environment should contribute a sum of money – some kind of tax – as compensation. Thanks to this tax, the government could fund marine conservation projects and help Cambodian people,” he argues. Utopian? Possibly, but at least, he is not lulled by the sandmen operating in Cambodia.
Taken from the original article.