What is the process of sand formation and sand mining?

Most people think that sand is plentiful, but sand is a non-renewable resource. The demand for it actually exceeds supply and the rate at which we are using it, we will soon be running out of it. Let’s find out how sand is formed and about the effects of indiscriminate mining of sand on the environment.

Formation of sand

Sand is a naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles. It is found on beaches and deserts. It is formed by the breaking down or erosion of large boulders by wind or water.

Sand is a very important mineral. It can be used to make concrete which is used in buildings to help support the structures. It is used to make glass, computer chips and to store nuclear waste. It can also be used as a mixer with salt to prevent the formation of ice on roads.

Sand mining

The extraction of sand is called sand mining. Sand can be mined from sand dunes, beaches and even dredged from river and ocean beds.

The main reason sand is extracted is to make concrete, which is in great demand because of the booming construction industry. River sand is considered the best for this purpose. It has jagged edges and is not rounded like desert sand. It also does not contain salt like beach sand. But since there isn’t enough sand on river beds, sand found on beaches and creeks is also used after removing the salt.

Harms the environment

Sand plays an important role in protecting the coastal environment. It acts as a buffer against strong tidal waves and storm surges by reducing their impact as they reach the shoreline.

Indiscriminate river bed mining harms the environment. It also leads to the deepening of rivers, change in the course of rivers and soil erosion. The river-plains become more vulnerable to flooding. Riverbed mining also affects groundwater recharge and the foundation of bridges, causing them to collapse.

When sand is taken away, all the life forms and biodiversity it supports also get destroyed. Indiscriminate beach and ocean mining have caused entire beaches and whole islands to disappear.

Where is sand mining rampant?

Illegal sand mining is rampant in developing countries like India and China, where construction is on the rise. Rich countries import sand from poor and developing countries. Singapore, for instance, is expanding its physical borders by importing sand from poorer countries like Cambodia, which, as a result is losing its beaches.

In India, mining licences are issued to contractors. The licences limit the quantities of sand that can be taken and the locations from where it can be mined. Sand mining policies are framed by state governments in India. Unfortunately, these laws are usually not enforced. There is hardly any monitoring either.

Serious crime

Markets for sand in India are dominated by sand mafias, criminal enterprises that mine and sell sand illegally. Although illegal sand mining is a serious environmental crime, there is little awareness about it. As it’s a rural issue, urban people are unaware of it unless they see it happening at a beach where they are holidaying. Also, many don’t want to register an official complaint against such illegal activities as it can be dangerous.

The UN took a long time to wake up to this issue’. The first-ever UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) round-table on sand sustainability took place in October 2018 at Geneva, where I, as a keynote speaker, made a virtual presentation on the issue: A sustainable policy on sand trade should be a part of the political agenda of national governments everywhere.

Picture Credit : Google 

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