Sand Mining

Ecology: Sand Mining and Sand Mafias- An Organized Illegal Activity 

Our planet consumes sand and gravel at a rate of 50 billion tonnes each year. It is enough to construct a wall 27 metres high, 27 metres wide that surrounds the whole planet at the equator every year. Our addiction to sand, fueled by the false idea that it is an infinite resource, is destroying natural ecosystems and fueling organized crime. What is the purpose of sand? For almost anything! Sand is pervasive in our everyday lives and technological advancement, from stained glass windows in cathedrals, from cellphones to wine glasses, from breast implants to solar panels. However, more than half of all sand used is to manufacture concrete. It makes sand the physical cornerstone of our global civilization. And has led to sand mining!

Sand Natural Resource
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Sand A Natural Resource

Sand is formed primarily from rocks and quartz rocks (70% of all sand is quartz). These are constantly worn by wind or water. However, because the process is exceedingly slow and much of the produced sand is unusable, it is a non-renewable resource.

Water-formed sand is uneven in shape, so it binds well and creates fine concrete, with one caveat: sea sand includes salt, which corrodes metal rebar if not rinsed off. For example, poor quality, salt-contaminated concrete contributes to the collapse of several structures during the catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Wind erosion is responsible for the formation of the sand found in the world’s deserts. Unfortunately, desert sand grains are smooth and do not mix well together, making them unsuitable for concrete—imagine constructing a home out of marble rather than bricks. Indeed, the world’s tallest structure, the 830-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai, a city poised on the brink of an infinite desert, was built with Australian sand.

Open Pit Sand Mining
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Sand Mining- An Illegal Activity

Sand mining is a multibillion-dollar industry, and rising sand prices have piqued the interest of organized crime in nations as far away as India and Italy. The demand for sand is so high in some areas that organized criminal gangs have taken over the trade. In the previous two years, they have slaughtered hundreds of people over sand.” A Mexican environmental activist, a South African sand miner, and an Indian journalist are all victims of sand-related violence.

Illegal sand mining is the greatest organized criminal enterprise in India. Sand mafias, or criminal groups, steal sand and gravel resources with impunity. Their work mostly goes unnoticed, although it creates the same corruption and brutality as the illicit trade in wild animals.

Illegal miners steal sand from beaches worldwide, from Jamaica and Indonesia to Sri Lanka, Morocco, and Sierra Leone. They then sells and ships it to richer countries to replenish their beaches or reclaim land from the sea. For example, in Singapore, the surface area rose by more than 20% since the 1960s. Environmental regulators in Morocco believe that half of the sand used in the building industry comes from local beaches. This illegal market dilutes responsibility for washing sea sand to remove salt, increasing the possibility of structural issues in structures in the coming decades.

Illegal Mining
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Sand Industry- A Sector With A Massive Environmental Impact

Aside from the extreme instance of these new mafias, large-scale legal sand mining has significant environmental consequences, frequently impacting the poorest places. The largest natural reserves of industrially useable sand exist at the bottoms of rivers and lakes. They are also visible on the seafloor, beaches, and riverbanks. When this sand erodes off, everything that lives in it dies, including fish, turtles, and crocodile eggs, posing a threat to the biodiversity of these aquatic ecosystems.

Sand dredging processes reject smaller particles. They go back into the water, creating turbidity and severely changing the aquatic ecosystem, suffocating fish and blocking crucial light for algae and corals. Taking off their heavier sediments (sand and gravel) allows rivers to flow quicker and deeper into the valley bottom. It lowers the water table, contaminates drinking water sources, increases the frequency of floods and damages infrastructure such as bridges.

When heavy sediments from rivers fail to reach the sea owing to sand mining and dams, beaches and deltas no longer replenish, it worsens the erosion! Unsustainable levels of sand mining along Southeast Asia’s Mekong River, for example, are causing the Mekong Delta, which is already threatened by rising waters, to shrink by several centimetres every year, risking its survival.

There are now no international treaties governing the extraction, usage, and exchange of sand, and this lack of regulation is fueling the underground market and all of its dreadful consequences. Even when sand mining is regulated, there is typically extensive unlawful extraction and sale. Despite being a worldwide issue “with substantial geopolitical, economic, and environmental repercussions,” it has received little attention. In the face of a problem eroding the underpinnings of our modern civilization and for which there are no easy answers, the world community has its head buried in the sand.

Credit: Pixabay

Sand as a Component of Civilizations

Our society emerged on the sand. It is used for building since the time of the ancient Egyptians. An Italian craftsman discovered how to transform sand into clear glass in the 15th century, paving the way for microscopes, telescopes, and other devices that fueled the Renaissance’s scientific revolution (also, affordable windows). The sand finds its use in detergents, cosmetics, toothpaste, solar panels, silicon chips, and, of course, construction; every concrete structure rose from tonnes of sand and gravel fused with cement.

Sand—small, loose grains of rock and other hard stuff—emerge from glaciers grinding up stones, seawater eroding seashells, and even volcanic lava freezing and breaking when it comes into contact with air. However, quartz, generated by weathering, accounts for about 70% of all sand grains on the Earth. Time and the weather eat away at the rock, above and below ground, grinding grains off. Rivers transport countless tonnes of those grains far and wide. They deposit them in their beds, banks, and areas where they meet the sea.

Apart from water and oxygen, the most common natural resource utilized by humans is sand. Every year, people consume more than 40 billion tonnes of sand and gravel. There is so much demand that riverbeds and beaches all around the world are depleting. (Desert sand, moulded by wind rather than water, is often unsuitable for building. Desert grains are too spherical to bond together well.) And the amount of sand extracted is expanding at an exponential rate. Although the supply may appear to be limitless and it is a limited resource like any other.

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Sand Mining and the Global Scenario

The latest global development boom—all those mushrooming megacities from Lagos to Beijing—is eating record amounts; extracting it is a $70 billion business. Massive land reclamation efforts and fast skyscraper construction in Dubai have depleted all neighbouring resources. Australian exporters are selling sand to Arabs.

Multinational corporations dredge it up using giant equipment in some locations, while locals transport it away with shovels and pickup trucks in others. As land quarries and riverbeds run dry, sand miners are turning to the oceans, where hundreds of ships are already vacuuming up massive volumes of the substance from the ocean floor. As one might think, all of this harms rivers, deltas, and marine ecosystems. Sand mining in the United States leads to beach erosion, water and air pollution, and other evils ranging from the California coast to the lakes of Wisconsin. The Supreme Court of India has warned that riparian sand mining destroys bridges and disturbs ecosystems, killing fish and birds. However, rules are scarce, as is the desire to enforce them, particularly in the developing world.

Since 2005, sand mining has destroyed at least two dozen Indonesian islands. A majority of the items from those islands ended up in Singapore, which requires massive sums to continue its policy of artificially increasing territory by reclaiming land from the sea. The city-state has added 130 square kilometres in the last 40 years and is continually expanding, making it the world’s largest sand importer by far. The collateral environmental damage is so severe that there are prohibitions on sand exports to Singapore and also in in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. All of this has resulted in a worldwide surge in illegal sand mining.

Sand Mining and the World

Even businesses with permits scatter bribes around to get away with excavating trenches that are larger or deeper than permitted.

Every year, criminal organizations in at least a dozen nations, ranging from Jamaica to Nigeria, dig out tonnes of the substance to sell on the underground market. Around half of the sand used for building in Morocco is illegal, and entire swaths of coastline are vanishing. One of Israel’s most well known criminals got his start stealing sand from public beaches. In 2010, there were accusations by dozens of Malaysian officials of receiving bribes and sexual favours in exchange for releasing illegally mined sand into Singapore.

According to United Nations research, humankind’s overall use of sand—more than 40 billion tonnes per year—is now more than twice the quantity of sediments replaced naturally on the Earth by the sum of the world’s rivers.

Sand is now so precious that there are huge exports across long distances. Like, Australia sends boatloads of sand to Arabia for land reclamation operations. China, the world’s function Object() { [native code] }, is also the world’s sand consumer. Between 2011 and 2014, the Chinese poured more concrete (mostly sand) than the United States did in the whole twentieth century. With its growing megacities, India is the world’s second-largest consumer of sand.

Sand Mining Erosion
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Adverse Effects of Sand Mining

The extraction of sand from an open pit, sea beaches, rivers and ocean beds, riverbanks, deltas, or inland dunes is known as sand mining. The collected sand can be utilized in several manufacturing processes, including concrete to construct buildings and other structures. Sand can also be used as an abrasive or combined with salt and placed on frozen roads to lower the melting point of the ice.

As populations grow and urbanization rates rise, so does the need for sand used in construction. Because of the increased demand, unsustainable sand extraction technologies and illicit sand mining are frequently in use. Although most governments have legal limitations on the place and the amount of collection of sand, illicit sand mining is thriving in many areas globally. Such actions harm the environment. These negative effects of sand mining include the following:

Sand Mining causes Erosion

The unregulated mining of vast amounts of sand along beaches causes erosion. The balanced action of depositional and erosional forces results in the formation of sea beaches. Although this equilibrium maintains, human intervention produces excessive erosion and, thus, beach retreat. Sand mining causes erosion and shrinkage of river banks by removing too much silt from rivers. Deltas can retreat as a result of sand mining. All of these damaging impacts of sand mining eventually result in the loss of productive land and property. It also destabilizes the Earth and causes bridges, dikes, and roadways to crumble.

Sand Mining
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Sand Mining adversely affects Tourism

Sand mining affects the visual appeal of beaches and river banks while also causing the biological system in these regions to become unstable. If these beaches and riverfront regions become prominent tourist attractions, their tourism potential would be gone.

Sand Mining harms Wildlife

Beaches are the meeting point of the water and the land. As a result, beaches are home to several creatures, including crabs, snails, and turtles. Sand mining on beaches harms the species that live in the coastal environment. Turtles, for example, such as the Olive ridley sea turtle, visit beaches to dig nests in the sand and lay their eggs. Turtles cover their nests with sand after depositing their eggs to protect them from predators. When the hatchlings emerge, they swim down the beach and into the sea. However, when sand mining occurs in turtle nesting environments, nesting places are lost. As a result, sand mining may be a factor in the extinction of a species.

For instance, in India gharials or fish-eating crocodiles, the harmful consequences of sand mining on local fauna are obvious. Sandbanks are necessary for severely rare gharials to establish their eggs and lounge in the sun. Unfortunately, despite conservation efforts, illicit sand mining in the gharial’s range has destroyed much-needed sandbanks in its habitat. The species is currently on the verge of extinction.

Sand Mining destroys Aquatic Ecosystems

Sand mining harms species not just on beaches and sandbanks, but also in underwater habitats. When sand extracts from the seafloor or riverbeds, it can cause turbidity in the water. Machines and human disturbances caused by such operations can potentially have a negative influence on aquatic species. Turbidity may form a barrier in the water that prevents sunlight from entering. It is hazardous to corals that require sunshine. Fish may die out as a result of a lack of food and oxygen in the murky waters. As a result of sand mining, the entire aquatic system may fail. The fishing sector, which is heavily reliant on such seas, may also suffer significant economic losses.

Beaches, dunes, and sandbanks operate as flood barriers. When such barriers erode by sand mining, areas near the sea or river become more vulnerable to floods. As a result, coastal populations in locations susceptible to indiscriminate sand mining are more prone to natural forces. Sand mining is an organized illegal activity and needs to be controlled to save the planet Earth and its precious inhabitants!

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