global war for sand
Though the supply might seem endless, sand is a finite resource like any other. The worldwide construction boom of recent years—all those mushrooming megacities, from Lagos to Beijing—is devouring unprecedented quantities; extracting it is a $70 billion industry. In Dubai enormous land-reclamation projects and breakneck skyscraper-building have exhausted all the nearby sources. Exporters in Australia are literally selling sand to Arabs.
In some places multinational companies dredge it up with massive machines; in others local people haul it away with shovels and pickup trucks. As land quarries and riverbeds become tapped out, sand miners are turning to the seas, where thousands of ships now vacuum up huge amounts of the stuff from the ocean floor. As you might expect, all this often wreaks havoc on rivers, deltas, and marine ecosystems. Sand mines in the US are blamed for beach erosion, water and air pollution, and other ills, from the California coast to Wisconsin’s lakes. India’s Supreme Court recently warned that riparian sand mining is undermining bridges and disrupting ecosystems all over the country, slaughtering fish and birds. But regulations are scant and the will to enforce them even more so, especially in the developing world.
Sand mining has erased two dozen Indonesian islands since 2005. The stuff of those islands mostly ended up in Singapore, which needs titanic amounts to continue its program of artificially adding territory by reclaiming land from the sea. The city-state has created an extra 130 square kilometers in the past 40 years and is still adding more, making it by far the world’s largest sand importer. The collateral environmental damage has been so extreme that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam have all banned exports of sand to Singapore.
All of that has spawned a worldwide boom in illegal sand mining. On Indonesia’s island of Bali, far inland from the tourist beaches, I visit a sand mining area. It looks like Shangri-la after a meteor strike. Smack in the middle of a beautiful valley winding between verdant mountains, surrounded by jungle and rice paddies, is a raggedy 14-acre black pit of exposed sand and rock. On its floor, men in shorts and flip-flops wield sledgehammers and shovels to load sand and gravel into clattering, smoke-belching sorting machines
Its wrecking our echo system earth and marine life.
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