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Science & Environment

The Battle for the Beach

Workers use bucket loaders to remove the sand from roads after Hurricane Irma  passed through the area on September 13, 2017 in Marathon, Florida.
Workers use bucket loaders to remove the sand from roads after Hurricane Irma passed through the area on September 13, 2017 in Marathon, Florida.

The world is running out of sand. And it’s a problem.

Here’s how Vincent Beiser, writing for Wired, puts it.

Apart from water and air, humble sand is the natural resource most consumed by human beings. People use more than 40 billion tons of sand and gravel every year. There’s so much demand that riverbeds and beaches around the world are being stripped bare. (Desert sand generally doesn’t work for construction; shaped by wind rather than water, desert grains are too round to bind together well.) And the amount of sand being mined is increasing exponentially.

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.

He’s our guest for this show. The problem is especially relevant in places like Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where businesses depend on the preservation of the beach. Before, wind and waves swept the sand down the beach. But the coast would be naturally replenished from the same effects from further up the coast. But there are so many disruptions, like breakwaters and jetties, that have interrupted the process, so the beach is eroding away.

And moving sand is a dangerous business. Illegal mining is booming. Mafias around the world will kill for the stuff.

So what can we do about it? We’ll get into granular detail.

Here’s some more of Vince’s recent work.

The Secret Ingredient to China’s Aggression? Sand.

Concrete is the stuff civilization is made of. But for all its blessings, there are huge environmental costs

Produced by Morgan Givens.


Vince Beiser, Author, “The World In A Grain;” his writing has appeared in the New York Times and Wired magazine; @vincelb

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

© 2018 WAMU 88.5 – American University Radio.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

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