Sand is a foundational element of our cities, our homes, our landscapes and seascapes. How we will interact with the material in the future, however, is less certain.
Smartphone screens, wine bottles, and porcelain toilets share a surprising ingredient: sand. In fact, the ubiquitous material is the second most exploited natural resource on Earth, after water.
Most sand pours into the construction industry, which in turn pours much of it into concrete. “Sand is the most mined solid material on Earth, and we’re using more and more sand as we’re becoming more and more people,” said Mette Bendixen, a physical geographer at McGill University in Montreal.
“The use of sand is now faced with two major challenges,” said Xiaoyang Zhong, a doctoral student in environmental science at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “One is that it has caused enormous consequences in the environment,” he explained. “The second challenge is that easily usable sand resources are running out in many regions…”
Vanishing Sands: How Sand Mining is Stripping Away Earth’s Beaches by Orrin Pilkey, et al – Duke | Nicholas School of the Environment
A new book from Duke University Press, “Vanishing Sands: Losing Beaches to Mining,” casts light on the shadowy world of sand mining through case studies that illuminate its disastrous impacts and a concluding chapter that proposes common-sense solutions.
Because of the tradition of viewing beaches as public land, people have historically thought of beach sand as a free and limitless resource, Pilkey and his co-authors explain in their preface to “Vanishing Sands…”
As global demand outstripped the supply that could be economically sourced from conventional inland sand pits, beach sand was deemed a suitable substitute, partly because it has angular grains that adhere to each other and, theoretically at least, improve the durability of any material or matrix they’re mixed into, and partly because it could be sourced from nearby dunes and beaches at practically no cost.
Excavators, bulldozers and dump trucks soon replaced buckets and wheelbarrows.
By 2020, entire beaches and dune systems in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, South America and the eastern United States had been stripped bare…
In addition to documenting large-scale sand mining’s adverse impacts in nine vividly written chapters, “Vanishing Sands” provides a list of science-based recommendations—Pilkey and his co-authors call them “truths and solutions”—for ending the damage.
“Coastal sand exploitation is rapidly spreading in this time of sea-level rise and intensifying storms. Such mining is slowly destroying the protective nature and touristic value of beaches on a global scale,” they write. “Ultimately, the solutions must (include)an inexpensive substitute for sand to be used in concrete…an end to coastal sand mining, and a systematic move landward as the sea rises. Here’s hoping that some wisdom will prevail…”
Co-authors of the new book are Norma Longo, a geologist, photographer and longtime colleague of Pilkey’s at the Nicholas School; William Neal, emeritus professor of geology at Grand Valley State University; Nelson Rangel-Buitrago, professor of geology, geophysics and marine research at the Universidad del Atlantico in Colombia; Keith Pilkey, an attorney concerned with issues of coastal development; and Hannah Hayes, a scholar of land rights, disaster capitalism and risk management.
Beach sand mining has been illegal since 1991 when the Coastal Regulation Zone Rules were first notified thirty years ago. Although illegal mining on beaches has continued nevertheless, the scale has been comparatively lesser than in rivers, where it has devasted entire swathes of land and water. Major Indian rivers like the Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari and Kaveri face existential threat…
Tourism is essential to Morocco’s economy, and its beautiful beaches are a vital part of the attraction for visitors. In an ironic Catch-22 situation, however, meeting the demands of this industry is indirectly destroying the very coastline that tourists are coming to enjoy.
In partnership with the Global Sand Observatory Initiative, this event outlines the sand challenge, what actions are currently underway to address it, and what else needs to be done.
An insatiable global appetite for sand, one of the world’s most important but least appreciated commodities, is unlikely to let up anytime soon. The problem, however, is that this resource is slipping away.
If you’ve visited the beach recently, you might think sand is ubiquitous. But in construction uses, the perfect sand and gravel is not always an easy resource to come by.
An artificial beach strip in Manila Bay has environmentalists up in arms. Scientists warn its dolomite sand could harm people’s health and marine wildlife.
A pair of skyscrapers are set to become the tallest prefabricated buildings in the world.