Keeping track of the global sand trade

Ines Nastali, DPC Editor

Malaysia’s decision to ban sand exports in 2018 – even to neighbour Singapore – highlighted the fact that sand is globally becoming a scarce resource. “Researchers need to establish accounting processes for sand flows in, and sand extraction from, rivers – both legal and illegal. They need to bring the scale of the problem starkly to the attention of their peers, the public, and policymakers. Local sand budgets and measures to promote responsible use must then be developed,” scientists from the University of Colorado, US, argue, warning that much of sand trade is undocumented.

Relying on local authorities to monitor and control dredged sand is problematic as illegal activity is usually under the radar, and in some cases politicians have been profiting from sand mining themselves (see DPC June edition). The World Wide Fund for Nature, which released a report titled ‘The impacts of sand mining on ecosystem structure, process, and biodiversity in rivers’, recommends the public use smartphones to quantify and call out illegal mining. But individual efforts will not be as effective as a global sand database where dredged amounts can be vetted.

The Colorado researchers called on the UN Environment Programme and the World Trade Organisation to set up and oversee a global monitoring programme for sand. The researchers even suggested using gauge stations, ship sonar, and acoustic technologies to measure river-bed morphology and sediment fluxes, and airborne lidar. Better numerical models could predict and assess changes in sediment flows. The global dredging industry must be an active part of this programme and ensure accurate sand extraction data about activities by any dredgers or excavation equipment, especially in developing countries where the sand mining industry is less structured.

Many DPC readers agree that increased access to data is becoming more important as evidenced by their choice of “sensors for data collection” as the answers to last month’s reader question: What equipment will become more important in future?

If you or your company is already working on projects to ensure a sustainable sand trade or future reuse of materials, please do get in touch with us to share your knowledge with other readers.