Sand–humble, measly, regular old sand—is a hot commodity these days. As construction booms in Asia and the Middle East gulp up billions of tonnes of sand each year, beaches thousands of miles away are getting robbed and turned into rocky, pockmarked versions of their former selves.
"It's the craziest thing I've seen in the past 25 years," Robert Young, a coastal researcher at Western Carolina University tells Der Spiegel. "We're talking about ugly, miles-long moonscapes where nothing can live anymore."
Laura Höflinger writing for Der Spiegel visited Cape Verde, where men and women armed with shovels descend on the beaches during low tide. "From a distance, it looks like gophers have dug their way through the beaches, with piles of sand stacked up, still dark from the wetness, "she writes, "And there are several pits, some as deep as two meters." This is a scene repeated all over the world, in Kenya and New Zealand and Jamaica and Morocco.
The men and women who mine sand, often illegally, are merely trying to make a living. But coastlines are being destroyed to build the skyscrapers and dams and highways of countries in other continents. Not to mention that as protective buffers of a beach disappear, waves are encroaching on the nearby town.
The UN estimates that three-quarters of the 40 billion tonnes of sand used each year are used to make concrete. Sand seems so plentiful that we don't think of it as a finite resource like fossil fuels, but it is. Once we dig it all up, it's gone. Just ask the people whose beaches are being destroyed. [Der Spiegel]
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