Posted on September 11, 2023
The UN Environment Program is issuing a warning about the damaging effects of excessive sand mining on our oceans. According to the agency, our current rate of sand extraction is not sustainable. Approximately 6 billion tons of sand are dredged from the ocean floor each year, equivalent to over a million dump trucks every day. Sand is one of the most exploited natural resources, only second to water. It is extensively used in the production of concrete, asphalt, and glass, making it a vital ingredient in the construction of roads and solar panels. Despite the environmental concerns, the need for sand in the development of renewable energy sources like wind turbines cannot be ignored.
Reuters highlights that the regulation of sand usage is relatively loose. The process of extracting sand often involves ships that essentially act as giant vacuum cleaners, depleting the sea floor of sand and destroying microorganisms that are essential to marine life. While removing excessive sand can lead to irreversible damage where life may not recover, leaving a sufficient amount of sand undisturbed can make a significant difference. Pascal Peduzzi, from the UN Environment Program, suggests that leaving one foot to 18 inches of sand can help preserve marine ecosystems.
To address this issue, the UN Environment Program has launched a global industry monitor called Marine Sand Watch. This initiative utilizes artificial intelligence and a vessel-tracking system to track sand dredging activities worldwide. The Verge reports that data collected from 2012 to 2019 indicates the extraction of 6 billion tons of sand. The Guardian adds that the amount of sand extracted from the ocean will continue to increase, approaching the natural rate of replenishment, which is around 10 billion to 16 billion tons each year, transported by rivers. To put things into perspective, constructing a one-lane highway for just one mile requires 38,000 tons of sand.