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For
most of us sand makes us think of days at the beach, sunshine, and sand
castles. However, few people know of the alternative universe that surrounds
sand.  The world is running out of sand.  It is consumed by industry and construction,
stolen and transported by criminal mafias around the world.  Sand mining is the process of extracting sand
from the ground, primarily from an open pit. 
It can be mined from beaches, dredged from river and ocean beds, and
mined from inland dunes. Sand is a key ingredient for concrete and
asphalt.  Sand is also used in
detergents, cosmetics, toothpaste, solar panels, silicon chips and many more
resources.  Therefore, a large amount of
sand is needed to make these products.

Sand
is being mined at a rate to where it cannot be replenished. It is not a
sustainable resource. The reason why sand mining is a huge issue is because of
the urban growth that’s spurred in the last decade.  Cities are expanding at a much faster rate
than any history.  Every apartment,
skyscraper, mall, or building is made with concrete.  Concrete is made up of sand and gravel.  Asphalt roads and windows are made up of
sand.  This sand has to come from
somewhere.   Sand mining should be
eradicated or brought to a halt because of the consequences that come from it;
local ecosystems are disrupted, environments face extensive damages, illegal
mining of sand to sell on the black market, sand mafia’s and child labor, and
economic downfalls.  In this paper, I
will be evaluating the consequences of sand mining, evaluating sands importance
in resources, and exploring alternatives for the use of sand.  

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Sand
has infiltrated every corner of the world. It is the number one commodity in
the world.  It is melted and transformed
into glass. Sand is the source of silicon dioxide.  A mineral found in wine, cleaning products,
detergents, paper, hairspray, toothpastes and an astounding number of other
commodities we use every single day. Sand is also a source of strategic
minerals such as uranium, titanium silica, and thorium.  No electronic chips can be manufactured if
there is no high-quality sand.  The
minerals form a basic material for microchips, without which our cell phones,
bank machines, computers, credit cards, and many other devices would not
exist.  Sand even helps us fly.  In airplanes, the plastics, lightweight
alloys of the fuselage and jet engines, even the paint and tires are all made
with sand (Sand Wars, 2013).

Because
of its low cost, strength, and ease of use, concrete has become the dominant
building material around the globe.   To
build an average house, it takes around 200 tons of sand.  For a larger building like a hospital, it
takes around 3,000 tons.  Each kilometer
of highway devours 30,000 tons. Finally, for a power plant, it is estimated 12
million tons of sand is used. Global production of sand exceeds 15 billion tons
each year. No other resource is used in such vast quantities as sand, except
water (Sand Wars, 2013).

Sand
comes from rocks that have been broken down. 
For the most part, the process starts in a rock somewhere that breaks
down. It might be in a river from ice or snow or rain fall. And as that grain
comes out of the sandstone or granite, it gets into a small stream, and then a
larger river, and in a normal world, would ultimately make its way down to the
shoreline. However, new sand does not reach the beach.  This process occurs over hundreds of
thousands and millions of years (Hadhazy, 2013). 

In
America, we have been building one dam every day since the Declaration of
Independence in 1776. 80,000 dams block the rivers of the United States.  In China, the demand for dams is so high,
that by 2020, not a single waterway will reach the sea (Sand Wars, 2013).  There are about 845,000 dams in the rest of
the world.  It is not only water that
they are holding back. The sand on beaches are about 5,000 years old.  New sand rarely reaches the coast in the
present day.  This is because of the
construction of roads and dams.  All the
sand that should be at the beach is behind a dam. At least one quarter of the
worlds sand are behind dams. The development impedes the transport of sand from
inland to the coast.  However, the sand
that does get through the dams, faces another threat, river dredging.  Although its regulated in many countries, it
is still a widespread practice.  About
50% of the sand that should nourish the world’s beaches, will never reach the
sea.

Initially,
surface sand was used to meet the high demands of the growing market.  However, that was exhausted quickly.  Companies then turned to rivers with low
success because of flooding.  Recently, however,
industries have turned to oceans. To satisfy the seemingly insatiable appetite
for sand, companies industrialized extracting it from beneath the waves. The
mechanism behind mining is a dredger, a giant tanker equipped with a suction
arm capable of pumping huge quantities of sand to the surface. The right vessel
can pump up to 400,000 cubic meters of sand to the surface every day.  Each dredger can cost from 25 million to 200
million dollars (Sand Wars, 2013).  But
the sand is free.  So, the thousands of
tankers combing the world’s oceans have every incentive to suck up as much sand
as possible.

Dubai
is an astonishing example of the demand for sand.  Within a few decades, this fishing village
has morphed into a mecca of modern architecture.  But Dubai’s ambitious projects swallow up a
lot of sand.  Mainly used in construction
projects, or making more land.  Dubai has
been doing this with the artificially constructed islands.  With a booming economy, the Emirate launched
an ambitious expansion project, The Palm.

After
the year 2000, with the price of real estate soaring, developers thought that
it would be cheaper to make land rather than to buy land.  The Palm cost over twelve billion dollars and
devoured more than 150 million tons of sand, which was dredged from Dubai’s
coastline (Sand Wars, 2013).  With the
Palm still under construction, Dubai embarked on an even larger project, The
World.  The World is an enterprise of
three hundred islands designed as a map of the world.  It absorbed three times as much sand as the
Palm and over fourteen billion dollars.

Today,
however, The World has been abandoned. 
This is because of the monetary crisis in 2008.  These deserted islands now parch in the sun
waiting for developers to restore its glory. 
The company in charge of these two projects, Nakheel, faces not only a
financial crisis.  Overdevelopment has
totally liquidated Dubai’s natural sand resources.

One
would think that, Dubai, being on the edge of the desert, would just use desert
sand.  Well, desert sand is the wrong
type of sand for building artificial islands in the ocean.  Desert sand has been blown around by the
wind.  Desert sand is also very round and
smooth.  Therefore, this type of sand
does not stick together.  What is needed,
is rougher-edged sand that naturally sticks together. Therefore, sand from the
sea is perfect for creating artificial islands, and even for construction.

The
Arabian Peninsula now imports their sand. 3,500 Australian companies export
sand to the Arabian Peninsula. Their profits have tripled in twenty years.
However, Australia is just one small part of a global trend.  There is a huge trade around the world for
sand.  Sand is moved from one area to
another.

Singapore
is another example for the high demand for sand.  Within thirty years, it has become the
richest city in the region.  Within this
time, Singapore’s population has more than doubled.  Singapore relies on the import of sand.  They increase their land mass.  Singapore has increased over 20% in the last
forty years; they have been pouring sand into the sea to create more land.  Since 1950, Singapore has transformed 130 square
kilometers of water into land.  And by
2030, developers plan to add another 100 square kilometers (Sand Wars, 2013).

Singapore
targets its neighbors for sand.  However,
Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia have decided to ban trade with
Singapore.  In fact, numerous times,
Singapore has been accused of expanding its coastline with illegally dredged
sand from its neighbors (Sand Wars, 2013). 
Because of trafficking networks, Singaporean dealers with false
identities working for fictional companies continue to find supplies of sand in
neighboring countries.

Furthermore,
sand mining has detrimental effects on ecosystems.  Much of the ocean floor is rocky or covered
with only a thin layer of sand built up over tens or even hundreds of thousands
of years.  As the sand is dredged, all
the animals and plants that are on the sea floor, will be dredged up as
well.  Therefore, the living communities
that thrive on the ocean floor, will be eliminated.

Sand
links the underwater food chain together. 
If it is removed, every single species is threatened.  An example of this is in Indonesia.  A large, if not majority of their fishing
comes from local and traditional practices. 
Because of mining activities, the fishermen are losing coral reefs which
also means losing the food the island depends on.  Loss of fish habitat directly threatens the
survival of thousands of Indonesian families.

Another
example of ecosystem destruction exists on Poyang lake, China.  Poyang lake is a freshwater lake; its sand
has been exported for mining.  Hundreds
of dredgers can be on the lake at any given time and some are the size of
apartment buildings (Beiser,
2017).  A recent study
estimates about 236 cubic meters of sand are taken from the lake every
year.  This makes the lake the largest
sand exploitation industry in the world. 
The lake also hosts migratory birds and several endangered species.  Birds such as storks, geese and cranes nest
at the lake during the winter months. 
The lake is also home to the porpoise, a rare and endangered
species.  The animal feeds on fish but
with the dredgers constantly on the lake, the noise generated by the dredgers
interfere with the vision and sonar of the porpoise to where it can no longer
find food to feed on (Beiser,
2017).

Mining
in the Poyang Lake causes the sediment to be disrupted, clouding the
water.  This causes fish to suffocate.
This also blocks the sunlight from sustaining underwater vegetation.  This demand for sand disrupts local
ecosystems and damages the community surrounding it.  

In
addition, beaches and entire islands are disappearing. After the extraction of
sand, a combination of waves, currents, and gravity slowly fill in the vacuum
on the ocean floor.  Therefore, the
removal of underwater sand can have a very noticeable effect on nearby beaches
and islands.   This can be to the extent
of which whole islands can disappear.  
The effects of sand mining have led to some islands off the coast of
Indonesia being completely vanished.  Twenty-Five
Indonesian islands have already disappeared.  However, there is still a high dependency for
sand.

Places
such as Morocco rely on individuals to gather sand.  A constant stream of men and donkeys descend
on the beaches seven days a week in search of sand.  The men and donkeys have taken so much sand
that some beaches now look like the surface of the moon.  The beautiful beaches of Morocco are being
stripped away into barren wastelands to construct buildings which might not
even last. It is estimated that forty five percent of the sand used in
construction in Morocco has been stolen, mostly from its beaches (Beiser, 2015).  Unfortunately, this is not where the problem
ends.  Without proper treatment, salty
beach sand mixed with cement is highly corrosive making Morocco’s new buildings
ticking time bombs in danger of collapse.

Mumbai,
India, is also facing an economic boom. 
It is also known for its business of smuggling sand.  The sand mafia is the most powerful criminal
organization in India (Beiser, 2015). 
For the mafias, beaches are easy prey because the sand is literally
within arm’s reach.  Therefore, they hit
all the tourist sites.  The criminal
mafia has gotten so extreme that hundreds are killed every year, because of
sand.

The
worlds beaches face a lot of pressure.  This
is because human population is drawn to coastlines. Globally, around 75-90% of
beaches are facing some form of retreat; and that is only going to get
worse.  Beach houses are slowly
disappearing.  Beaches are bound to
disappear; this can be from sand smuggling or erosion, because of sand
mining.  Beaches adjust to seasonal changes.  In summer, beaches grow thicker; in winter,
they recede and level off to better absorb the energy of the waves.  For a beach to survive forceful waves,
beaches must have enough space behind them. 
However, with construction of houses along the beach line, the beach has
no where to go.  This causes the beaches
to be overcome by the waves, which carry their sand out to sea.  Florida is an excellent example for this.  Nine out of ten beaches in Florida are
disappearing because of the loss of sand. 
Hotels and other big businesses built too close to the ocean.  Because of the beaches disappearing, Florida
is facing an economic downfall.  All the
tourists and guests that visit the state, want to go to sandy beaches.  But they have no place to enjoy the beach.  Hotels rely on the beach to stay open.  Beaches feed the hotel industry as well as
recreation, transportation, food services, and a multitude of other sectors.

The
government of Florida, is trying to mitigate these problems.  They now pump sand into their beaches. To
keep their beaches viable, cities that can afford it, invest astronomical sums
in beach replenishment therapy.  This is
done when a dredge pumps sand from the ocean floor and pours it onto the
beach.  Some see this as a solution.  Others see it as a band-aid which only treats
the symptoms.  The sand that is taken
from the ocean floor is dug up and pressed together.  The lifeforms that inhabit sand, are not
prepared to be buried alive and suffocated.

Beach
nourishment is a temporary remedy.  After
a year or two, the sand has been washed out to sea, and the entire process must
be started again from scratch. 
Nevertheless, this method is immensely popular, to the delight of the
dredging companies.  Another way, to try
to trap the sand on the beaches, is that coastal engineers are advocating the
construction of dikes, breakwaters, and all sorts of other structures.  However, sand is in constant motion.

Our
population needs to reduce our dependency on sand.  Beaches are victims of human
interference.  With ocean levels rising,
it is only a matter of time until beaches fully disappear.  The sea rise is going to happen a lot more
quickly without sand.  However, the ocean
is not going to stop there.  Soon cities
will fall victim to ocean levels rising. 
The sand is our barricade to this, and not many people understand.

Maldives,
has seen the profound consequences of sand mining.  Sand divers collect coral sand and sell it to
developers to make a living.  But with
sea levels rising, this sand harvesting is leading to some serious
problems.  Sand can easily deform or
erode an island.  The Maldives are
eroding at an alarming rate. Residents are doing everything they can to protect
their homes, but many beaches are little more than memories.  The beaches have disappeared because of the
sand mining offshore.  Several islands
and residents have been evacuated, and today the refugees crowd onto larger and
better protected islands, such as Male, the capital (Sand Wars, 2013).  To make room for the refugees, the city is
trying to build homes.  However,
construction comes at a cost: sand.

There
has never been as much construction as there exists today.  But at the same time, housing has never been
less affordable.  One third of urban
residents now live in lower poverty areas, while apartments and houses are
still being built all over the world. In China, 65 million flats are empty, yet
the construction company is booming; it swallows up one quarter of the sand
extracted on the planet.

Governments
are also to blame for the waste of sand. 
Highway construction uses inexpensive sea sand.  The asphalt used has swallowed up massive
amounts of the world’s beaches.  However,
it has been observed that a problem needs to get much worse for the government
to pay attention.  It is crucial that
politicians, scientists, engineers, come together and find alternatives for the
use sand in construction. 

To
bring the issue locally, the last coastal sand mine exists in Marina,
California.  The CEMEX sand mine is owned
by a company in Mexico.  Each year, CEMEX
produces an estimated 200,000 – 300,000 cubic yards of sand (Rogers, 2017).  In fact, this beach is disappearing; it is
the fastest eroding shoreline in California. 
Marina beach is the last beach in the US that is being mined for the use
of construction sand.   In the late
1980’s the federal government shut down the other sand mines along the
California coast due to the impact of erosion. 
But CEMEX is still operating because of a legal loophole:  the mining plant lies above the mean
high-tide line, which makes the matter out of the hands of federal
jurisdiction. 

However,
with local protesting, CEMEX sand mine will be closing in three years.  Under a settlement agreement, CEMEX will
still be allowed to mine up to 177,000 cubic yards of sand for the next three
years.  However, the company must be
entirely shut down by December 31st, 2020 (Rogers, 2017).  After CEMEX is closed, the company is
required to restore the site of operations into more natural conditions.  Then the land is to be sold with limits that
would forbid future development and allow public access.  This is a major victory for the Monterey coast
and allows for sand mining to be eradicated in the United States.

An
alternative for using sand in construction, is a whole new building material. From
the straw that’s burned after the crop is done, straw-bale houses can be
built.  This type of building material
uses no cement.  The houses are
earthquake proof, perfectly insulated, and even fire proof.  Concrete buildings are not necessary.  Buildings are crafted together using recycled
materials, such as steel.   Construction
companies should be using recycled materials until a different solution is
found.  Like straw and metal, our homes
are recyclable too.  Rubble can be used
to build roads or new housing.   Convincing construction companies to use
different material is a hurdle as well. 
These companies know how to work with concrete.  So, changing construction practices, is an
uphill battle. 

          Just north of San Francisco, lies a
beach where a granular material substitutes for sand.  This beach is called Glass Beach.  It turns out that for years the city dumped all
their trash onto the beach (Austin, 2017). The glass was broken up by the waves
and got rounded.  Today, a sparkly,
shiny, wonderful beach exists.  It
started out as a garbage dump (Austin, 2017). 
The people in Florida are trying this trick.  Glass bottles and packaging are
everywhere.  They are usually collected
and recycled into new containers.  But
when it is crushed into fine pieces, that glass can be just like sand.  It has physical properties like sand.  Its uncontaminated and pure as regular beach
sand.  It also behaves like sand.  Glass recycling is an alternative for
beaches.  On the beaches it has been
tested, even sea turtles have adopted it as a place to lay their eggs.

As
much as one quarter of the glass that we throw away is not recycled and ends up
in the dump.  If it is crushed, it can
become the perfect component in the making of concrete. But compared to natural
sand, this sand is still too expensive.  As sand alternatives and new construction
methods struggle to gain legitimacy, the sand gold rush is gaining speed and
more battle fronts are appearing.  The
time for change is now and to do so, we must decrease our dependability on sand
before it is too late.

Literature Cited

Austin,
J. 2017.  Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach.  San Diego Reader. Available from:

      https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/apr/03/travel-glass-beach-ft-bragg-ca/#

Beiser V.  2015. The Deadly Global War for Sand.  Available from: https://www.wired.com/2015/03/illegal-sand-mining/

 

Beiser, V. 2017.
Sand mining: the global environmental crisis you’ve never heard of. Available
from:

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/feb/27/sand-mining-global-environmental-crisis-never-heard#img-5

 

Hadhazy, A.
2013.  Where Does Beach Sand Come From?
Available from: https://www.livescience.com/38163-where-beach-sand-comes-from.html

 

Rogers P. 2017. Controversial
beachfront sand mining operation along Monterey Bay to close. The Mercury News.
Available from:

Controversial beachfront sand mining operation along Monterey Bay to close

Sand Mining.  Available from: http://coastalcare.org/sections/inform/sand-mining/

 

Sand Wars. Film. Guillaume Rappeneau; 2013.  Available from:

http://utahmtb.com/sand-wars-full-documentary/

 

 

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