Hidden impacts of sand extraction and trade


Credit: Aurora Torres, Ph.D., German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv)

The increasing demand for sand in building infrastructure is prompting a range of environmental and social issues that must be addressed, Aurora Torres et al. stress in this Perspective, highlighting the role that science has in finding sustainable solutions. Between 1900 and 2010, the global volume of natural resources used in buildings and transport infrastructure increased 23-fold, with sand and gravel making up the largest portion of these primary materials. Yet sand extraction tends to be poorly regulated and is often subject to rampant illegal extraction and trade. The authors cite numerous ways in which sand extraction can be detrimental, for example by impairing ecosystems through erosion, physical disturbance of benthic habitats, and suspended sediments. The ensuing environmental degradation holds negative implications for humans too, threatening water and food security, as well as increasing the spread of disease. Sand mining can also often spur social and political conflicts, including violence, criminal activities, and political tensions between nations; for example, a "Sand Mafia" in India is considered one of the most powerful and violent organized crime groups. The authors emphasize the need for an interdisciplinary scientific approach to help elucidate the hidden impacts of sand extraction and trade, and identify a framework for more sustainable extraction in the future. With increased attention to the complex linkages of sand scarcity, the global community can begin to understand how to use sand more sustainably and avert a tragedy of the sand commons, the authors conclude


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