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Trouble brewing in the international sand trade

When you think of major global trade imports and exports, you might think of oil, textiles and clothes, and even coffee, but what might come to mind is sand.

Sand extraction for use in infrastructure is proving to be a major problem that science needs to address soon, according to a new report by Dr. Aurora Torres from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research.

Natural resources used for building materials and transport has increased 23-fold from 1900 and 2010, and the biggest contributors are sand and gravel. Importing and exporting sand has even caused some mining operations to become illegal and created the emergence of a seedy underground network of sand smugglers and sand mafias.

In Jamaica, the local mafia was a major contributor to coastline erosion, and in India, the sand mafia is considered an incredibly dangerous and powerful crime group.

Sand extraction is not well regulated which is why there is such rampant illegal activity surrounding it. The demand for sand has also increased with economic development and infrastructure.

Jamaica’s western coastline is just one place where sand extraction has caused major environmental damage, the sand trade is causing erosion and habitat degradation which is not only harmful to the ecosystem but also humans.

The political, social, and environmental ramifications of sand mining showcase a need to for stronger regulations and conservation practices.

Torres explains that an interdisciplinary scientific approach will be crucial to highlighting the effects of sand extraction, and finding a more sustainable method of extraction is the only way to counter the tragic impacts of the sand trade.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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