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Islands disappear as global sand shortage sparks crime spree

File photo.

File photo.

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, June 24, 2016, 3:23 PM - You don't have to visit a beach to be surrounded by sand. It plays an integral role in modern society, used in the construction of glass, concrete and, in some places, roads.

While there's plenty of sand in the desert, it isn't used in construction because the wind-shaped grains are too round and don't stick together well.

Sand created by water erosion is rougher and stickier, making it the preferred choice.

But experts say the amount of sand that's construction-friendly is finite and reserves are dwindling fast, thanks to rapid development in China which, according to The New York Times, used more cement between 2011 and 2013 than the United States used in the entire 20th century.

Sand plays a major role in modern society, used in the construction of concrete and glass. File photo.

In light of the global sand shortage, illegal sand mining gangs have begun popping up in India and Indonesia, putting strain on the environment and tourism industries.

According to The New York Times illegal mining disrupts ecosystems by destroying critical habitat spaces, while killing countless plants and animals.

Since 2005, an estimated two dozen small islands in Indonesia have disappeared due to illegal sand mining.

Legal sand mining requires an environmental clearance certificate, which some see as costly and timely to obtain. That, in addition to the shortage, has helped spawn a black market industry with little regard for local ecosystems.


The legal sand mining industry generates about $70 billion (US) annually, The New York Times estimates.

To combat steadily-dwindling reserves, some companies are looking at creating artificial sand for construction purposes. Meanwhile, engineers are testing a new concrete formula in India that replaces some sand with small plastic particles, reducing the amount of sand required.

Then there's the study of bioconcretes, which is working to extend the life of sand-made structures.

Officials are also calling for conservation of the resource in hopes of quelling a thriving black market.

"In some places, sand is not abundant anymore, so we need to reconsider the way we are dealing with sand,” Pascal Peduzzi, head of the Global Change & Vulnerability Unit at the United Nations Environment Programme, said in an interview with the UN.

Sources: The New York Times | UN | Smithsonian


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