6 Billion Tonnes Of Sand Dredged Annually From Oceans Causing Irreversible Damage To Marine Life, UN Warns

About six billion tons of sand is being extracted yearly from the floor of oceans, resulting in irreparable damage to benthic life, per a global data platform on sand as well as other kinds of sediment extraction in the marine environment.

The brand new data platform titled the Marine Sand Watch has been built by GRID-Geneva, a Centre for Analytics in the UN Environment Programme (abbreviated the UNEP).

The platform will help track and also monitor dredging activities of silt, gravel, sand, clay, and rock in the world’s marine environment, including the hotspots such as the North Sea, the East Coast of the US, and Southeast Asia, a statement by the UNEP said on 5 September 2023.

Sand Dredger
Representation Image

It is likely to offer information on the areas utilized for sand extraction (concessions), areas of capital and maintenance dredging, number of vessels and operators, sand trading ports or hubs, and the extraction of sediment as well as other kinds of activities by nations with their Exclusive Economic Zones.

For this, it is going to make use of Automatic Identification System signals of ships as well as Artificial Intelligence for identifying operations of dredging vessels.

The platform has further estimated that between four and eight billion tons of sand are being dredged from the ocean floor each year. Further alarmingly, the number is also expected to go up to 10–16 billion tons each year, which happens to be the natural replenishment rate or the amount that rivers require to maintain marine and coastal ecosystem structure as well as function.

The extraction of sand boosts the turbidity of water. It alters nutrient availability and also results in noise pollution, affecting marine organisms massively.

Not just the benthic organisms, people who live in the coastal communities will be severely impacted by the magnitude of sand dredging, per the UNEP statement.

Coastal/Near-shore extraction can impact the salinization of aquifers and future tourist development.

Some nations — including Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia — have reportedly banned marine sand export in the past 20 years, while others lack legislation and effective monitoring programs.

The UNEP had reportedly called for improved monitoring of sand extraction and the use in the 2022 Sand and Sustainability report. It had recommended pausing sand extraction on pristine beaches as well as other active beach and nearshore sand systems for mining sand as a resource and also for establishing international standards when it comes to sand extraction in the marine environment.

The statement further added that the UNEP/GRID-Geneva plans on further refining the data and developing a new version of the platform to be capable of moving close to near-real-time monitoring and improving the detection capacity closer to 100% of dredging vessels, and differentiate between the classes of vessels and other related activities, per the statement.

References: Reuters, Down To Earth, The Print, BBC

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