Sand Mining: Irreversible damage to Ocean benthic life

Sand Mining: Irreversible damage to Ocean benthic life

According to a recent report by global data platform ‘Marine Sand Watch’, about six billion tonnes of sand is extracted from the world’s oceans annually, causing irreversible damage to benthic life.

What is benthic life?

  • Benthic life refers to organisms that live on or near the bottom of aquatic environments such as oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers.
  • These organisms are adapted to life on the ocean floor or river bottom, and play important roles in the ecosystem, including decomposing organic matter and providing food for other aquatic species.

Key Point:

  • The report estimates that four to eight billion tonnes of sand is being extracted from the seabed every year.
  • What is even more worrying is that this number is expected to increase to 10 to 16 billion tons per year.

‘Marine Sand Watch’:

  • ‘Marine Sand Watch’ has been developed by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and GRID-Geneva.
  • GRID-Geneva is part of the Early Warning and Assessment Division of the global group of environmental information centers of the United Nations Environment Programme, known as the Global Resource Information Database (GRID) network.
  • GRID-Geneva and Nairobi were the first centers to launch in mid-1985.
  • The platform will track and monitor sand, mud, silt, gravel and rock dredging activities in the world’s marine environments, including hotspots such as the North Sea, Southeast Asia and the East Coast of the United States.

Preventive measures taken by countries:

Some countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia, have banned sea sand exports over the past 20 years, while others lack any laws and/or effective monitoring programs.

Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach, including:

  • Reducing sand consumption, imposing taxes and regulations on sand extraction.
  • Exploring alternatives to sand in construction, such as recycling concrete or using fill materials such as construction waste.
  • Involving local communities in decision making, especially those downstream or dependent on sand resources.
  • To coordinate sand resource management between offshore regulators, coastal communities and upstream river basins.

Legal Mechanism:

  • Sand is classified as a “minor mineral” under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, and is controlled by state governments.
  • The primary sources of sand are rivers and coastal areas, and its demand has increased due to India’s construction and infrastructure development activities.
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has issued “Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines 2016” to promote environment-friendly sand mining practices.
  • The International Seabed Authority (ISA), governed by a United Nations treaty, regulates mineral exploration and extraction.

Source – Down to Earth

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