Category Archives: Articles & Dossiers

Let’s end war with ocean, Op-Ed by Orrin H. Pilkey

Sandbagged, trashed beach at South Nags Head, N.C. in February 1987, with some evidence of bags that have been torn or ruptured and have leaked sand. The scarp under the houses indicates that storm waves are topping the bags, and buildings were damaged or lost in the end. Captions and Photo courtesy of: © Orrin Pilkey.


The immediate future most certainly holds more miles of sandbags, resulting in more narrowed and ugly beaches. But this trend can be halted and reversed. Now is the time to make peace with the ocean.The time is now to stop sandbagging, both physically with no more shore-hardening structures, and politically with no more exceptions to the intent of the rules, no more undermining existing legislation, and a return to enforcement…

Read Full Article; Star News Online (04-05-2017)

Sandbagging at the Shore: North Carolina’s Coastal Sand Bags and Political Sandbaggers; By William Neal, Orrin Pilkey & Norma Longo;
The wonder of modern English is how social use of language expands and changes the meaning of words. Sand bag is a bag filled with sand used for temporary construction—quickly made, easily transported, and easily removed. Typically, sandbagging is the emplacement of sand bags to construct a temporary protective wall or barrier, such as a dike or dam to hold back flood waters , or protection on the battlefield. But the term ‘sandbagging’ has taken on an array of other meanings…

Sand mining ban lifted on beach in Suriname, causing public backlash

Four barges are currently mining shell sand at Braamspunt beach in Suriname, following a year-long ban of mining activities at the beach. This image was taken on March 9. Photo credit: Professor Sieuwnath Naipal.

By Rachel Fritts / Mongabay – Published under Creative Commons By NC-ND;(03-27-2017)

  • Sand mining could decrease the ability of Braamspunt beach to protect Suriname’s capital city from rising sea levels and storms surges.
  • Conservationists also fear for sea turtles nesting on the beach, which may be disturbed by the bright lights and loud noises of the industrial activity.
  • Sand mining in coastal environments has become a global industry, threatening biodiversity and natural defenses against climate change.

When environmental activist Erlan Sleur heard that four sand mining barges had been spotted at Braamspunt beach, he dropped everything. Construction work on his house could wait.

“I wanted to go by boat to Braamspunt to see for myself what was true before I took action,” he said.

By the time he left, video footage of the sand mining had gone viral on social media, prompting an online petition. Four boatloads of people accompanied Sleur to protest at Braamspunt on February 18, two days after news broke of sand mining on the beach. Sand is a key component of concrete and asphalt, and coastal sand mining can be a cheap way to obtain this essential building material…

A boatload of people arriving at Braamspunt beach on February 18 to protest sand mining. Photo courtesy of Erlan Sleur, ProBioS.

Signs from February 18 protest organized by ProBioS founder Erlan Sleur. Photo credit: Erlan Sleur, ProBioS.

The sand mining barges sighted at Braamspunt came as a shock to the public and to local NGOs alike. Sand mining had been banned at the beach since December 2015, and a 2016 WWF Guianas environmental impact report strongly recommended a permanent ban.

The report states that Braamspunt and other beaches on Suriname’s low-lying coast must stay intact to perform their role as a natural coastal defense system. Braamspunt’s proximity to capital city Paramaribo, home to 250,000 people, makes it especially important as a wave buffer. The beach also serves as a nesting ground for leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), considered Endangered.

Initially, the government appeared to comply with WWF Guianas’ recommendation. However, last month the Minister of Natural Resources Regilio Dodson issued mining permits to four Surinamese construction companies – NV Sarika, Gebroeders Soebratie NV, Rock & Dirt Shippers, and NV en Handelmij Dharmsing NV – to mine on the beach. While Dodson has claimed that WWF Guianas softened their recommendation during private talks in January, they deny this is the case.

“WWF adhered to the scientific recommendations that state that no sand mining should be done at Braamspunt,” Jerrell Pinas, a WWF Guianas representative, told Mongabay. He added that they “do not see the basis for misinterpretation.”

Minister Dodson was approached for comment but declined to respond.

Erlan Sleur’s environmental activism organization, Protect our Biodiversity in Suriname (ProBioS), and local NGOs such as the Green Heritage Fund, Conservation International Suriname, and WWF Guianas, are currently working together to push for the sustainable management of Braamspunt beach and Suriname’s natural resources – management that does not include sand mining.

The demand for sand

Far from being a local Surinamese problem, sand mining is a growing international concern. A recent article in the Guardian called it “the global environmental crisis you’ve never heard of.”

Sand is an invisible but essential building block in urban development. It is a key ingredient of glass, concrete, and roads. Over half of the world’s growing population lives in cities, and that percentage is expected to increase in coming years. The 40 billion metric tons of sand needed to prop up such unprecedented urban growth has to come from somewhere.

Previously, companies looked to land-based sources like quarries and riverbeds, but they are now turning to coasts and oceans to supply the world’s construction boom. Coastal sand mining has already destroyed some beaches and even entire islands.

“I think it’s always a bad option to mine on the coast,” said Pascal Peduzzi, a United Nations environmental program researcher and sand mining expert. Peduzzi said that sand mining risks coastal erosion, reducing protection from sea level rise and storm surges, and negatively impacting fisheries and coastal biodiversity.

These looming threats have already inspired protests and bans all around the world. But a sizeable and profitable sand mining black market has also arisen. In India, the “sand mining mafia” allegedly has enough wealth to bribe the government to turn a blind eye, according to activists in the country.

If sand mining continues unchecked the results could be devastating, warns Peduzzi.

“We still think that the world is infinite. Yes, there is a lot of sand, but it is not infinite.”

Where sand stands in Suriname’s coastal system

In Suriname, sand mining remains legal. However, sand is an integral part of the country’s coastal system, and removing significant amounts through mining, could have devastating consequences.

Suriname has a dynamic coast comprised of a number of mud banks that migrate westward, shrinking and expanding over time. In high wave energy areas between these mud banks, sand banks called “cheniers” rise up 2-4 meters above the muddy foundation, serving as natural flood protection and wave buffers. The mangroves sheltered by such cheniers then defend against coastal erosion.

This naturally occurring system of mud banks, cheniers, and mangroves provides a free protection service to the nearly half a million people who live along Suriname’s coast. But not everyone sees it that way.

“I think the common feeling is that we have a lot of mangroves,” said Sieuwnath Naipal, a Surinamese national and hydrologist at Anton de Kom University. If natural protections are stripped away and mangroves are destroyed, however, “you have to take over the protection and other functions of the mangroves by yourself, and then you have to pay for it.”

Currently, the government has no official plan for replacing vanishing natural coastal defenses. As most of the country’s inhabitants live near the coast, this could prove disastrous in light of climate change.

“Suriname is one of the top seven most endangered countries for sea level rise,” said Ramses Man of Conservation International Suriname. “It is a very low country, especially in the coastal area … If the sea level rises by one to two meters, then most of Paramaribo will be gone in 50 to 60 years.”

The chenier currently protecting Paramaribo and nearby mangroves is called Braamspunt.

Braamspunt is a shell sand beach that sits on top of a mud flat at the mouth of the Suriname River. It serves as a wave breaker and flood defense for Paramaribo North. Photo credit: Google Earth.

The battle for Braamspunt

Just weeks after the beginning of the new year, Laurens Gomes, WWF Country Representative for Suriname, received a call. After a year-long ban, the Ministry of Natural Resources wanted to know how sand mining could begin again at Braamspunt without going against WWF Guianas’ recommendation. Gomes replied that the results of the impact report were unambiguous – any sand mining at all would cause significant damage.

In February, mining began again without WWF’s knowledge, timing that directly coincided with the beginning of Braamspunt’s sea turtle nesting season.

Braamspunt beach provides a nesting ground for a significant number of Atlantic leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea). Photo credit: Jerrell Pinas, WWF Guianas.

200 people demonstrated in front of Suriname’s Parliament building on February 24, in a protest organized by ProBioS. Some members of Parliament visited the beach themselves on the same day. Photo credit: Erlan Sleur, ProBioS…

Erlan Sleur has already organized two protests on the turtles’ behalf – the first, spontaneous protest on February 18, and a second involving 200 people on February 24 in front of Parliament.

He is not the only one concerned for the turtles’ safety.

While mining activities are currently to the west of turtle nesting grounds, Braamspunt’s size and shape are in a constant state of flux.

“We believe the population of marine turtles will rely more and more on the western part of the beach, at or very close to the mining activities,” said Pinas with WWF. “In the coming season or a next season, the options for nesting will be significantly limited due the mining impacts.”

Nesting female turtles and their hatching offspring might already be suffering ill effects.

“The fact that they [are] mining at night using big flood lights is already an important disturbance of the natural behavior of the sea turtles,” said Monique Pool, founder of the Green Heritage Fund. These concerns were echoed by Sleur and Conservation International Suriname.

At least seven nesting sea turtles have been found dead at or near Braamspunt since mining began.

The government has blamed the fishing industry for the turtles’ deaths. However, conservationists say the loud noises and bright lights of late-night mining activities can confuse adult and hatchling turtles, potentially driving them to exhaustion and increasing their risk of drowning and entanglement. More research is needed to understand the full effect of sand mining on turtle behavior.

Dead green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) found on Braamspunt beach on February 20. It had likely been dead for a week when it was discovered. Photo credit: ProBioS.

The way forward

Suriname’s NGOs hope to work out a sustainable solution that will be both economically and environmentally beneficial to all who depend on Braamspunt’s continued existence.

“If a government really is committed to sustainable development they should integrate and recognize the economic, environmental and social concerns of all stakeholders,” said Pool.

She stressed that ecotourism operators and fishermen who rely on Braamspunt’s biodiversity do not necessarily have other income options if the beach is destroyed.

“Sand mining could potentially harm a lot of people who live on very low incomes,” she warned.

Meanwhile, WWF Guianas, CI Suriname, and the Green Heritage Fund hope that the government will be open to exploring alternative materials or more sustainable locations to fill the construction industry’s sand demand.

“We don’t say that you cannot make any money on nature, but take the natural resources that are sustainable,” said CI Suriname’s Ramses Man. “Just think about what you take.”

Original Article And Learn More, Mongabay (03-27-2017)

Impacts of sand mining on beaches in Suriname; WWF (02-2016)
The goal of this report is to inform the Surinamese Government and Public on the impacts of sand mining on beaches in Suriname, based on the analysis of satellite images of the Suriname coast, and on ground observations on Braamspunt beach, and the necessity for conservation of beach sand budgets, beaches being a fundamental element of the coast of Suriname.

The battle for the Surinamese sand: turtle vs. construction industry; NOS- (Original Surinamese Dutch version) (02-20-2017)
More than a hundred activists left last Saturday to Braamspunt, the northernmost tip of the Suriname River, to protest against the excavations which began here again for a week in the sand tongue…

Sand Is in Such High Demand, People Are Stealing Tons of It, By Dave Roos; HowStuffWorks (03-06-2017)
As strange as it may sound, sand is one of the world’s hottest commodities. The global construction boom has created an insatiable appetite for sand, the chief ingredient for making concrete. The problem is that sand isn’t as abundant as it used to be. And when high demand and high value meets scarcity, you open the doors to smuggling…

The Conservation Crisis No One Is Talking About, By John R. Platt, TakePart (09-21-2016)
Beaches around the world are disappearing. No, the cause isn’t sea-level rise, at least not this time. It’s a little-known but enormous industry called sand mining, which every year sucks up billions of tons of sand from beaches, ocean floors, and rivers to make everything from concrete to microchips to toothpaste…

Sand, Rarer Than One Thinks: A UNEP report (GEA-March 2014)
Despite the colossal quantities of sand and gravel being used, our increasing dependence on them and the significant impact that their extraction has on the environment, this issue has been mostly ignored by policy makers and remains largely unknown by the general public.
In March 2014 The United Nations released its first Report about sand mining. “Sand Wars” film documentary by Denis Delestrac – first broadcasted on the european Arte Channel, May 28th, 2013, where it became the highest rated documentary for 2013 – expressly inspired the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to publish this 2014-Global Environmental Alert.

Sand Thieves Are Eroding World’s Beaches For Castles Of Cash, by Martine Valo, Le Monde (09-2013)
The pillaging of sand is a growing practice in the world. This is because it represents 80% of the composition of concrete that it is the object of such greed…

Sand Wars, An Investigation Documentary, By Award-Winning Filmmaker Denis Delestrac (©-2013)
Is sand an infinite resource? Can the existing supply satisfy a gigantic demand fueled by construction booms? What are the consequences of intensive beach sand mining for the environment and the neighboring populations…? This investigative documentary takes us around the globe to unveil a new gold rush and a disturbing fact: the “Sand Wars” have begun…

Global Sand Mining: Learn More, Coastal Care

Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care
As of 2011-2012, when investigative filmmaker Denis Delestrac and team, were first collecting and unveiling unpublished sand mining datas and information from the professionals involved, the Sand business was estimated to be a $70 billion industry, worldwide…!—Denis Delestrac (©-2013)
“Sand is the second most consumed natural resource, after water. The construction-building industry is by far the largest consumer of this finite resource. The traditional building of one average-sized house requires 200 tons of sand; a hospital requires 3,000 tons of sand; each kilometer of highway built requires 30,000 tons of sand… A nuclear plant, a staggering 12 million tons of sand…”—Denis Delestrac (©-2013), “Sand Wars” Multi Award-Winning Filmmaker.

Coastal policy needs dose of reality; Op Ed by Orrin Pilkey

Cape Hatteras HWY12 Road Closure, Dare County, North Carolina. Captions and photo source: ©© Bryan Elkus


Governor-elect Roy Cooper, with whatever powers he has left, has two particularly important tasks facing him on the environmental front. One is to reinvigorate and restore the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and to bring robust science to the fore.

The second task is to bring our coastal management program into the 21st Century…

Dr. Orrin H. Pilkey is James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Geology at Duke University and co-author of “Retreat from a Rising Sea” and “The Last Beach.”

Read Full Article, Star News Online (02-02-2017)

Orrin H. Pilkey: Heading over the coastal cliff in North Carolina; Op Ed, Pilot Online (02-05-2017)

Orrin H. Pilkey: Heading over the coastal cliff in North Carolina; Op Ed

WATCH: “The Beaches Are Moving Video,” featuring Orrin H. Pilkey. A UNC-TV video © University of North Carolina Center for Public Television


In the December 16 issue of Science, an insightful article about sea-level rise argues that there is a good possibility that the increase will exceed six feet by 2100…

Read Full Article, Pilot Online (02-05-2017)

In NC, dangerous delays and delusions on sea-level rise; Op Ed by Orrin H. Pilkey & Keith C. Pilkey; The News & Observer (07-09-2016)

Rethinking Living Shorelines, By Orrin H. Pilkey, Rob Young, Norma Longo, and Andy Coburn;Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines / Western Carolina University, March 1, 2012, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
In response to the detrimental environmental impacts caused by traditional erosion control structures, environmental groups, state and federal resource management agencies, now advocate an approach known as “Living Shorelines”that embraces the use of natural habitat elements such as indigenous vegetation, to stabilize and protect eroding shorelines.

“Retreat from a Rising Sea,” A book by Orrin H. Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey- ©2016

Nature Confronts Politics in North Carolina; (05-26-2015)
As local politicians underestimate rising sea levels, coastal communities are coming up with their own plans…

The Last Beach, A book by Orrin H. Pilkey And J. Andrew G. Cooper ©-2014
“The Last Beach” is an urgent call to save the world’s beaches while there is still time. The geologists Orrin H. Pilkey and J. Andrew G. Cooper sound the alarm in this frank assessment of our current relationship with beaches and their grim future if we do not change the way we understand and treat our irreplaceable shores.

An Assessment of the Impact of Sand Mining: Unguja, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Beach sand mining, Zanzibar, Tanzania. Captions and photo source: Caroline Ladlow (May 6, 2015)

Abstract; By Caroline Ladlow (May 6, 2015)
The environmental, economic, and social impacts of sand mining activities were studied at various sites on the island of Unguja.

The effects on vegetation, coastal erosion, communities, and local economies were researched based on field observations and interviews with local people and officials at the various sites. Five primary sites were visited throughout this study, three illegal quarries, one abandoned legal quarry, and one active legal quarry. The environmental impacts at each of the five sites were decidedly destructive, and the economic and social results were also found to be generally harmful as many people, children, and animals have drowned and the number of fruit­bearing trees and farms are shrinking, which decreases local incomes. The accelerated erosion, lack of plant regeneration, and reported issues with mining in local communities demonstrate that sand mining in Unguja has had adverse impacts overall…

In Tanzania much of the mining occurs along riverbanks, while in Zanzibar it occurs along the coasts, though both processes contribute greatly to coastal erosion (Masalu, 2002 & Nyandwi, 2010).

In mainland Tanzania, in comparison to Zanzibar, sand mining is done mainly along the coast and in river beds. This does a great deal of damage because it destabilizes the river banks and may collapse any bridges along them (Nyundwi, 2010). On the contrary, mining in Zanzibar is generally done on the coastal beaches or in the hinterland areas that are richer in available sand. Environmentally, mining along riverbanks and coastlines has had irrevocable effects, though it has had many social impacts as well. Illegal sand mining in the mainland, as well as in Zanzibar, can often create bad relationships between miners and property owners or communities. This occurs because the miners threaten property owners which creates an unfriendly and violent atmosphere (Masalu, 2002). Sand mining tends to occur along coastal zones due to the abundance of sand available to miners. The shoreline provides an open space without abundant vegetation, simplifying the process and providing a space where the evidence of mining will be erased with the tide. However, this contributes greatly to the coastal erosion problem that Zanzibar is already experiencing

Read Full Study, SIT Graduate Institute/SIT Study Abroad (05-06-2015)

Sand Mining in Tanzania: Learn More, Coastal Care

Global Sand Mining: Learn More, Coastal Care

The Beach Boondoggle; Op Ed by Robert Young

Beach-renourishement operations, Waikiki 2012. Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care.
“Hawaii’s famed Waikiki Beach started to erode again, less than a year after the completion of a $2.2 million project to replenish the sand on about 1,730 feet of shoreline that had been suffering from chronic erosion.”Captions.
“Development is absolutely responsible for the majority of the beach nourishment,” Andrew Coburn, assistant director of The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, said. “Well over 99 percent of the shorelines that are nourished are developed so there is some economic value placed behind them.”


Hurricane Matthew was not a megadisaster like Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina, but if precedent holds, simply rebuilding the beaches may cost federal taxpayers billions of dollars…

Read Full Article, The New York Times (10-12-2016)

Coastal geologist criticizes beach renourishment efforts; By Robert S. Young, PhD; The State (08-17-2016)
Rob Young, who heads the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, said the government is subsidizing coastal development with renourishment money – and that’s costing taxpayers. Communities across the country have spent millions of dollars renourishing beaches. Those efforts encourage people to rebuild after every major hurricane…

Sandy Reminds Us of Coastal Hazards, by Robert Young (10-2012)

Hurricane Matthew’s Destructive Storm Surges Hint at New Normal, National Geographic (11-10-2016)

How Your Taxes Help Inflate The Value Of Coastal Properties Threatened By Climate Change; ThinkProgress (06-05-2015)

Column: The future of Florida’s beaches and the public’s right to know; Op Ed. by Orrin Pilkey, (12-07-2015)

That ‘More Realistic’ Sea-Level Report? Not Good News for NC, by Robert Young; News Observer (05-06-2015)

A Beach Project Built on Sand; By Robert S. Young, PhD, in The New York Times (08-22-2014)

Coastal Barrier Resources System: Testimony of Robert S. Young, PhD; (04-07-2014)

“The Rising Sea”A Book by Orrin H. Pilkey and Robert Young

Palm Beach Mid-Town Dredge Project, A Youtube Video (02-04-2015)
“Beach nourishment projects like this have become commonplace along the US East and Gulf Coasts. These projects have immediate environmental impacts through burial of nearshore habitat and increased turbidity during project placement.The cumulative environmental impacts of doing this repeatedly on the same beach while conducting projects from Maine to Texas is unknown. But, we should be concerned. ” —Robert S. Young, PhD, Director, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Professor, Coastal Geology, Western Carolina University

The short-sighted politics of sea-level rise in North Carolina

Rising ocean and shoreline erosion at South Nags Head, North Carolina. Photo source: © Orrin Pilkey & Norma Longo


This summer, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives tacked onto a military funding bill a provision that prohibits the use of federal funds by the military to study global climate change or even to plan how to respond to it.U.S. Rep. Ken Buck from Colorado called the military concern with global climate change a radical climate change agenda.

It is surprising that a major political party in this age of enlightenment has a central “plank” in its party doctrine showing skepticism about global climate change. Commonly, the skepticism includes the assumption that humans bear no responsibility for the sea-level and climate changes occurring. It is an example of what columnist Leonard Pitts called “the alternative reality of conservative orthodoxy…”

Read Full Article, By Orrin Pilkey, News Observer (09-30-2016)

“North Carolina: The Beaches Are Moving,” A Video featuring Orrin Pilkey, PhD
World famous coastal geologist Orrin H. Pilkey takes us to the beach and explains why erosion has become a problem…

Shoot the Messenger: Carolina’s Costly Mistake on Sea Level Rise, By Dr. Robert S. Young, Director, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines / Western Carolina University

Denying Sea-Level Rise: How 100 Centimeters Divided The State of North Carolina, by Orrin H. Pilkey (04-23-2013)

Sandbagged: The Undoing of a Quarter Century of North Carolina Coastal Conservation, Op Ed by Gary Lazorick (07-04-2011)
Rows of houses with overlapping sandbag walls create huge problems. The walls do as much damage to the beach as hardened seawalls. Removing the sandbags from one property potentially damages all of the others…

Shoot the Messenger: Carolina’s Costly Mistake on Sea Level Rise, By Dr. Robert S. Young, Director, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines / Western Carolina University

Sea level rise a big issue for military in Hampton Roads, science says (07-27-2016)

North Carolina Should Move With Nature on Coast, News Observer (01-05-2015)

Time to Get Serious About Protecting Beaches; Savannah Now (03-13-2015)
Much of the coastline along the eastern seaboard is composed of barrier islands whose geography is in constant flux. Some years, a particular stretch of beach will expand, maybe for 10 years or more. That same beach may begin to shrink, and continue to do so for years, perhaps even opening into a small estuary and forming a marshland, only to be reversed eventually. “Our bill will allow the baseline to move landward, but not seaward. The science and the common sense agree that this is the prudent course of action…”

We Need to Retreat From the Beach, Op Ed by Orrin H. Pilkey.
As ocean waters warm, the Northeast is likely to face more Sandy-like storms. And as sea levels continue to rise, the surges of these future storms will be higher and even more deadly. We can’t stop these powerful storms. But we can reduce the deaths and damage they cause…

Why are beaches disappearing in Morocco?

Desirable coastal areas are being stripped of their beachfronts by the construction need for sand

Asilah’s beaches are a popular tourist attraction in the summer months. Captions and Photo source: © MEE/Matthew Greene

By Matthew Greene

Originally published in, and courtesy of: © Middle East Eye, August 4th, 2016. All rights reserved.

For much of the year the northern Moroccan coastal city of Asilah is quiet and relaxed. But come summer the population swells, absorbing both crowds of seasonal residents as well as an influx of tourists. Visitors come for the cool weather, the affordable prices and above all to enjoy Asilah’s wide sandy beaches.


Yet during the last decade, Asilah’s beaches have been ravaged. Their natural beauty has been devastated due to years of sand mining, whereby large stretches of beachfront have been almost stripped bare of their sand. Their condition threatens severe long-term environmental damage as well as undermining the industry that is the main driving force behind this city’s economy.

Workers mine sand from an Asilah beach in 2012. Photo source: Miriam Gutekunst /

Sand mining peaked between 2012 and 2014, when Asilah witnessed a sharp increase in the construction of apartments, homes, hotels and resort projects capitalising on a favourable property market. “They were building like mad men,” recalls Fouad Maslouhi, a textile trader and lifelong Asilah resident. He says that most of the investment came not from locals but from real estate developers and builders based in Tangier, Fez and elsewhere.

A group of men dig sand from a hidden pocket of beach when the tide retreats. Captions and Photo source: © MEE/Matthew Greene

Amid the development boom, some builders began seeking out a cheaper alternative to purchasing cement, opting to exploit the sand of nearby beaches with which to mix their own concrete. “They just assumed that the sand would naturally replace itself,” says Kamal Arrifi, a certified mason who remembers the period well. After a few years of steady mining, it became clear that nature was struggling to keep pace with the unnatural removal.

A worker fills a flour sack with sand on a slice of shoreline hidden by the cliff above. Captions and Photo source: © MEE/Matthew Greene

Arrifi says that most of those doing the digging were younger Moroccan men from around the city, desperate for work and money, adding: “It was reliable work and pay.” Groups of young men and boys as young as 12 would come down to the beach with shovels to fill up used flour sacks with sand before hoisting them onto carts to be moved to nearby work sites. In areas where the digging was most extreme, the beach was left resembling the surface of the moon.

The extent of sand removal and cliff erosion: unfinished housing sits in the background. Captions and Photo source: © MEE/Matthew Greene

Asilah is not the only Moroccan city to have suffered sand exploitation. Similar operations have been documented along the country’s Atlantic shoreline in nearby Larache, as well as in Kenitra and as far south as Dakhla, sometimes on an industrial scale so large that entire kilometres of coastline have been destroyed. The common culprit is a demand for cement for which sand is an essential ingredient.

Surface rock has become more exposed as a consequence of sand mining. Captions and Photo source: © MEE/Matthew Greene

Some residents in Asilah believe sand mining is only a symptom of a more murky reality: the world of local government bureaucracy, which has allowed construction to blossom without regulation. “I don’t know how people came to realise that they didn’t need permits or plans, but it was universal knowledge,” says Jan Williams, an American expat who has lived in Asilah for the past 20 years. “Everyone knew that it was cheaper to pay fines than acquire the proper paperwork.”

She believes the problem reflects the mood of post-Arab Spring Morocco. “A town engineer told me that in the past that they [the authorities] would have come and knocked down any illegal additions. Now, he said: ‘What would we do if someone pours gasoline over his head and sets himself on fire? We would have a problem, like in Tunisia’,” referring to Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation in 2011 was widely recognised as the catalyst of the Tunisian Revolution which went on to inspire the Arab Spring.

Today, sand mining in Asilah has slowed to a trickle. Many housing projects sit empty and unfinished, a result of the money in the real estate market drying up. The environmental impact of the period, however, remains visible.

The natural wall between the sea and housing is now giving way to erosion. Captions and Photo source: © MEE/Matthew Greene

Behind Asilah’s old medina, rock exposure reveals where high quantities of sand removal occurred. The absence has also led the shoreline to move further inland, allowing incoming tides to push past what was previously their natural threshold.

The low tide reveals the shore retreat and sediment loss from sand mining. Captions and Photo source: © MEE/Matthew Greene

According to Abdou Khouakhi, a Moroccan oceanographer, surface loss and shore retreat are key warning signs of potential environmental and structural danger. “This may cause erosion and enable waves and storm surges to threaten inland and low-lying areas.”

He adds that it is important to look at beaches as part of a wider ecosystem that offers “a valuable environment and habitat for many species of fauna and flora”. The possible consequences of sand mining are not confined to shores, but may spread to estuaries and other habitats such as dunes and marshes that have significant relationships to the ocean.

Illegal beach sand mining, Morocco. This photo was taken on the North Coast of Morocco, in Larache area, near Tangier (between 2005 and 2009). Photo courtesy of © SAF –

“It has always been about money, and that won’t ever change…”

It is the economic and cultural toll of sand mining that has finally persuaded the city to address the issue. This summer, sand was imported to a handful of Asilah’s beaches in an attempt to make them more accommodating and presentable for the tourist season. The measure, however, is only a temporary fix to a larger problem.

In Khouakhi’s opinion, Morocco needs to “adopt conservation and preservation methods rather than ‘defence’ approaches” that take the wider ecosystem into consideration. He prescribes an all-encompassing programme that emphasises stabilisation, vegetation and beach nourishment in addition to avoiding any future sand mining.

Illegal beach sand mining, Morocco. This photo was taken on the North Coast of Morocco, in Larache area, near Tangier (between 2005 and 2009). Photo courtesy of © SAF –

But concerned residents express little confidence in the government’s willingness to take the long-term health of the environment into account, despite Morocco’s recent commitments to sustainable development policies. Doing so, they argue, conflicts with the state’s appetite for economic growth and profit. “It has always been about money, and that won’t ever change,” says Arrifi.

He points from a dirt road overlooking a small inlet of coast removed from beachgoers as a group of young men shovel sand into wheelbarrows. “If they [government] really cared, they would stop this.”

Sand Mining in Morocco: Learn More, Coastal Care

Global Sand Mining: Learn More, Coastal Care

How to Steal a Beach

CEMEX extracts about 200,000 yds3 of sand from this back beach pond every year. Captions and Photograph courtesy of: © Gary Griggs


In Northern California’s Monterey Bay, a peculiar thing happens every time there’s a storm. When wind and rain hit, a pond set back about 100 feet from the water’s edge on the beach of Marina, California fills with sand. The sand is then dredged from the pond, to the tune of roughly 200,00 cubic yards, about 8 acres of land a year, and sold.

This is the last remaining sand mine of its kind in the U.S.—namely, a sand mine that takes its material directly from the beach…

Read Full Article, Atlas Obscura (07-18-2016)

Monterey Bay, California: Beach Sand Mining from a National Marine Sanctuary; By Gary Griggs (09-01-2014)
The 30-mile long, continuous sandy shoreline around Monterey Bay is the most visited stretch of shoreline on the central coast. Yet, it holds the dubious distinction of being the only active beach sand mining operation along the entire United States shoreline. To make matters even worse, it all takes place along the shoreline of a protected National Marine Sanctuary. Something is seriously wrong with this picture…

Cemex mine reflects human hunger for sand, California; Monterey County Now(01-14-2016)
The disappearance of the beach reflects an alarming reality: Southern Monterey Bay, Marina in particular, has the highest coastal erosion rate in the state of California. For more than 20 years, scientists have speculated about the sand mine’s contribution to that erosion rate, and a 2008 study concluded it was the primary cause. The Cemex mine in Marina is the only remaining coastal sand mine in the entire United States. Which leads to new questions…

Beach Sand Mining in Monterey Bay Causes a Dustup, WSJ (04-08-2014)
California’s Monterey Bay boasts one of the nation’s most protected coastlines, situated within a federal sanctuary that imposes bans on everything from Jet Skis to offshore drilling. Yet most days, hundreds of tons of sand are harvested from one of its most picturesque beaches, in a mining operation now coming under increased state and local scrutiny…

Sand, Rarer Than One Thinks: A UNEP report (GEA-March 2014)
Despite the colossal quantities of sand and gravel being used, our increasing dependence on them and the significant impact that their extraction has on the environment, this issue has been mostly ignored by policy makers and remains largely unknown by the general public.
In March 2014 The United Nations released its first Report about sand mining. “Sand Wars” film documentary by Denis Delestrac – first broadcasted on the european Arte Channel, May 28th, 2013, where it became the highest rated documentary for 2013 – expressly inspired the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to publish this 2014-Global Environmental Alert.

Sand Wars, An Investigation Documentary, By Multi-Award-Winning Filmmaker Denis Delestrac ©-2013.

Documentary ‘Sand Wars’ Highlights Local, Global Sand Crises; Santa Cruz Sentinel (06-19-2015)