Sand is used to make concrete and glass, it is an essential ingredient of nearly every modern highway, airport, dam, windowpane, and solar panel. Although desert sand is plentiful, its wind-tumbled particles are too smooth—and therefore not cohesive enough—for construction material. Instead, builders prize sand from quarries, coastlines, and riverbeds.
Hunger for Sand Takes Toll on Endangered Species
Sand is being dredged from inland freshwater lakes, altering lake ecology; as well as literally being hauled away by the shovel full from India’s Arabian Sea shoreline. The sand removal is resulting in the loss of seagrasses and declines in Ganges River dolphin and terrapins, a critically endangered turtle.
Scientists are now tracing the collateral damage of sand removal. Sediment plumes, stirred up by the dredging, block sunlight impeding photosynthesis of the nearby seagrass meadows. These meadows nourish several species, including the dugong, which is also in decline.
Between 1994 and 2012, global cement production—a proxy for concrete use—tripled, from 1.37 billion to 3.7 billion tons, driven largely by Asian construction. Land reclamation projects, too, have a rapacious hunger for sand. Singapore, for example, has expanded its land area by 22% using sand primarily from Malaysia, Cambodia, and Indonesia as fill. Sand mining—on an industrial scale and by individual operators—greatly exceeds natural renewal rates.