But where is our sand?

But where is our sand?

The sea is the sky of the earth
the clouds swim
from wave to wave,
but where is the sand

We often behave as if our planet was a supermarket where we could take whatever we need eternally without ever passing by the checkout. Sand is a fundamental element of our ecosystem, and the survival of all the species depends from it. We do not always make the link between the buildings that surrounds us, the concreting of our society and the use of sand. But in fact, the intensive dredging of this resource, mainly for the use in the construction industry and public works (roads, bridges, infrastructure, etc...), is causing a chain reaction whose effects are visible beyond the seabed. As a raw material, it is of huge importance to the building and construction industry. Indeed, houses, skyscrapers, bridges, airports, and pavements are all partially composed of sand. Melted and transformed into glass, it features in every window. It is also the source of silicon dioxide, a mineral found in our wines, cleaning products, hairspray, toothpaste, cosmetics and an astounding variety of other products that we use on a daily basis. Without sand, no paper, dehydrated food, no computers, electronics, micro-chips in credit cards, no cellphones. The industry consumes sand in increasing quantities, even more than oil. Perhaps because, unlike the black gold, this raw material, perceived as inexhaustible, remains to this day practically free. Since the sand of deserts is unsuitable for construction, building magnates have massively turned to the exploitation of rivers and beaches, and this to the detriment of the entire ecosystem. Gradually, they have nibbled at least 75% of the world's beaches and swallowed whole islands. The wild extraction of sand has converted entire beaches into lunar landscapes. As a consequence of the sand mining we lose our coral reef, we lose our fish, we lose the fishermen's livelihood, but the pervert effects goes much further.

An island, composed of sand, is the natural result of a conjunction between wind, waves and water streams. By removing sand this whole natural balance is disturbed. When sand is extracted off the coast, the resulting gap is progressively filled by the sand of the beach under the effect of the waves, the water stream and the gravity. Twenty-five islands in Indonesia have laterally evaporated. The issues are not only ecological or economical, they become geopolitical, because when land disappears the international frontiers changes. But where did this sand went to? Singapore, Indonesia's neighbour, an overpopulated metropolis as many others in Asia. It's surface has increased by 20% this last 40 years and this was only possible by discharging tons of sand on the coasts. Singapore has already won 130sqkm on the sea and expect to add 100sqkm more by 2030. The countries bordering Singapore have banned the exportation of sand and therefore Singapore now imports its sand totally illegal from Cambodia. As the demand increases, the more the circle becomes vicious. It becomes a new battle. The reserves are scarce, prices soar, the demand exacerbate, the appetite is insatiable...


According to a natural cycle the morphology of the beaches adjusts itself to the seasonal changes. In the summer the beaches are higher and in the winter they become lower to better absorb the energy of the waves. The beaches therefore need enough space behind to move back. But we are building our cities too close to the coastline. The waves crashing against walls, dikes, hotels are taking the sand offshore and it leads to their extinction. As the urban demography explodes we continue to build tirelessly to keep pace. Ironically, we are reinforcing the problems of erosion along the coasts. 3/4 of the biggest metropolis are located on the coastline, which are housing half of the world population.

Actually, all the beaches everywhere in the world retreat and this trends accelerates. So to all those who are on holiday these days, enjoy the sand because soon there will be no beaches any more in many parts of the world ;-)

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