Posted on September 11, 2023
Our need for sand is wreaking havoc on our oceans, warned the UN Environment Program, which on Tuesday cautioned that the mining of it at our current pace is not sustainable. The agency said roughly 6 billion tons of sand are dredged from the ocean floor each year, an amount equal to “more than one million dump trucks every day,” says UNEP’s Pascal Peduzzi. Sand is second only to water on the list of our most exploited natural resources due to its use in the production of concrete, asphalt, and glass, making it a key ingredient in the production of everything from roads to solar panels, reports the BBC. As such, “We can’t stop doing it because we need lots of concrete for the green transition, for wind turbines and other things,” Peduzzi says.
But as Reuters notes, its use “is only loosely governed.” Peduzzi says that some ships act as “giant vacuum cleaner[s], basically sterilizing the bottom of the sea by extracting sand and crunching all the microorganisms that are feeding fish.” In locations where sand is removed all the way to the bedrock, it’s possible that “life may never recover,” but leaving a foot to 18 inches of sand is a game-changer, he says.
To better understand the scale of the problem, UNEP has launched the first-ever global industry monitor, called Marine Sand Watch. It tracks the dredging of sand using artificial intelligence and a vessel-tracking system that allows it to zero in on dredging vessels, reports the Verge. The 6-billion figure comes from data gathered between 2012 and 2019, reports the Guardian. And as that number grows, it will only get closer to the natural rate of replenishment: some 10 billion to 16 billion tons of sand enter the sea via rivers each year. (Constructing one mile of a one-lane highway requires 38,000 tons of sand.)