The beaches are threatened

Photo above: Jordan Godley.

The ocean is the source of our pleasure as well as the life on this planet. Still we, as in humans, are not treating the ocean well, and as surfers we often get to experience the consequences first hand. The amount of plastic dumped daily into the ocean is too large to wrap your head around, why we now often get to share the lineup with garbage. Then there is the overfishing, which is said to be the reason for an increase of sharks close to shore.

But not only does our unsustainable fishing and plastic consumption challenge the marine environment, the same can be said about our sand consumption. While the previously mentioned issues are well-known, only a few are aware of the sand scarcity the world is facing.

You might ask yourself: There are hundreds of thousands of square miles covered with sand in the desert, how can there be a sand scarcity? Then again, we use over 40 billion tons of sand each year extracted from beaches across the globe.

Although sand is used in countless everyday items, such as computer chips, glass and solar panels, the no.1. sand consumer is the construction industry. First of all, sand is used to build the foundation of structures. Secondly, sand is the main component of the popular building material, concrete. 2/3s of concrete is sand and that is why even to build an average family house, 200 tons of sand is required.

The issue lies in one little detail, though: Not any kind of sand is adequate for construction, only marine sand. Given that desert sand is very round due to wind erosion, structures built with it would be very unstable. Marine sand grains, on the other hand, are more angular which makes the structure more stable. 

21041086_400550233693725_4129036577458356224_n Despite all the sand grains in the Sahara Desert, we are facing a sand scarcity. Photo Alex Postigo.    

During the construction of the Burj Khalif in Dubai, a place you think should have no shortage of sand, over 45,000 tons of sand were imported from Australia. As the Earth’s population is constantly increasing, construction is necessary but often we exceed “necessary”.

We are endangering the environment because the natural habitat of marine species is being decimated by the sand extraction. Other than environmental damages, there are also economic and social costs related to this issue.The disappearance of sand makes the foundation of infrastructure unstable which has already lead to the collapses of bridges in Taiwan, Portugal, and China. And not least, the high demand for sand has led to a boost in the black market, and sand mafia around the world are illegally mining sand at any cost, risking lives and not taking environmental aspects into consideration.

What we can and should do to help solve sand scarcity is raise awareness. If we keep consuming sand at this rate, studies have shown that there will be no beaches by 2100. While some are currently working on alternatives to sand, since the issue hasn’t gained much publicity yet, finding a solution has not yet been prioritised. Here’s an infographic which summarizes the issue. 

IMG_3510 No sand, no French beach breaks. Terrifying thought. Photo by Timo Jarvinen.