By Cassie Kim
Sand theft sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Stealing individual grains of seemingly worthless sand sounds absurd to the common person, but to sand mafias (yes they’re a real thing) sand is priceless. Human civilization depends on sand for construction, infrastructure, and even technology. Although it may not seem like it, sand is a limited resource. It needs the right size and grit to be usable and although it is available for high prices from licensed mines, many governments and corporations prefer to get their sand illegally. While this is cheaper for the corporations and governments, it has an enormous cost on the environment. Sand mafias pay off policemen, officials, journalists, and environmental agencies to steal sand. People who stand up to the sand mafia are usually faced with threats of injury and even death. These sand mafias then strip the sand from riverbeds, which often have the most useful sand, as well as from other habitats that are vital to the lives of various animals. They vacuum entire beaches, even entire islands to collect the valuable sand.
The harm that sand theft has on the environment is widely under researched because of the underground nature of the threat of sand theft. It threatens marine ecosystems, even in areas that are supposedly protected. The devastating impacts of sand theft does not end with the harm of animals and marine life; it also threatens the livelihoods of people who work in the sea. Fishermen who live in areas that have been plundered by the sand mafia have seen their catch decrease exponentially, harming them and their families. Artificial sand has been used to try to replace the quickly depleting sand resources available, but it is simply unrealistic. It requires enormous amounts of sand and it does not prevent any of the underlying issues that cause erosion and sand depletion.
The issue of sand theft is not going to resolve itself and as the amount of sand decreases, the more attention we will have to pay to the growing issue of sand theft. The impact that it has on the environment and on our lives is continuing to grow and until we address the issues, we will continue to lose sand.