The Hidden Environmental Toll of Mining the World’s Sand

Yale Environment 360 –

Nothing sounds so dull — even for most environmentalists — as sand mining. But in India, reports of sand mafias cashing in on the country’s construction boom have lately been making headlines. Last month, the issue went viral — a 17-year-old girl named Kavya in a fishing village in the state of Kerala posted a video on a mobile phone app about how excavators and dredgers had invaded her coastal community. “The land beneath our feet is sinking away,” she said. It became a sensation across the country. Bollywood actors backed her, and now the country’s National Green Tribunal, a government body aimed at settling environmental disputes, is to consider the case.

Sand mining is the world’s largest mining endeavor, responsible for 85 percent of all mineral extraction. It is also the least regulated, and quite possibly the most corrupt and environmentally destructive. So could this be a turning point?

In recent years, as I have traveled the world looking at environmental issues, sand mining has kept appearing out of the corner of my eye. Always there, but rarely the main story. While in Kerala in August, researching the environmental factors behind recent floods, I found that sand is dredged from local rivers 40 times faster than the rivers can replace it. Riverbeds have been lowered by around 6 feet as a result.

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