A “Sand Crisis” Looms in the United States

Millions of dollars worth of sand being dumped on Hollywood Beach, FL. Image: Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel

Aside from it feeling soft or hot on our toes, most of us don’t give sand much thought when going to the beach. However, beach nourishment, or beach filling, is the practice of adding large quantities of sand or sediment to beaches to combat erosion and increase beach width and coastal cities around the world are being forced to closely manage their beach sand. Since the 1950s Florida alone has spent $1.3 billion on nourishment but because of storms and sea-level rise nearly half the state’s 825 miles of beaches are now considered “critically eroded” and they need new sand brought in each year.

So where do you get more sand? That’s a tricky question as most sand is mined within 50 miles of where it is used and becomes very expensive to move over long distances. This means that each coastal region is quite protective of its sand, often making the supply for beach nourishment limited. This is especially a problem for a state like Florida. As the Guardian explained,

“Northern Florida has more sand to spare than the southern coast but Dietch said there’s “tension” because the northern counties “don’t want their sand being excavated and barged to Miami-Dade county”. Places like the Carolinas also guard their sand jealously. So Surfside and many other Florida resorts turn to a sand mine near Lake Okeechobee north of the Everglades wilderness area.”

The Ecological Toll of Sand Mining: We need sand for beach erosion but also for industrial processes like making concrete. Unfortunately, digging up sand isn’t just the largest mining endeavor globally but also comes with a heavy environmental toll. Not only does the extraction of sand prevent rivers from absorbing floodwaters but there are notable other environmental issues as well. The Guardian summed it up:

“From Cambodia to California, industrial-scale sand mining is causing wildlife to die, local trade to wither and bridges to collapse. And booming urbanization means the demand for this increasingly valuable resource is unlikely to let up.”

Incidentally, climate change which is causing the melting of Greenland’s glaciers is also opening a possible sand extraction industry in the semi-autonomous nation.

 

Why This Matters: Experts are predicting that states like Florida will soon experience a “sand crisis” as climate change fuels sea-level rise as well as stronger and more frequent hurricanes that perpetually wash away sand from beaches. Senator Marco Rubio R-FL, who doesn’t acknowledge the full challenge of climate change, recently introduced a bill to allow Florida to purchase sand from the Bahamas (currently importing sand from foreign countries is not permitted). In so doing, we would outsource the environmental degradation associated with sand extraction to poorer countries. This is a complicated problem but we need our lawmakers to acknowledge that our shortage of sand is being fueled, in large part, by the climate crisis. 

 

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