Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal management sourcebooks 1
Case 6

When sand has been mined from the beach

E N V I R O N M E N T A L
B A C K G R O U N D

The removal of sand from beaches has been taking place in many Caribbean islands for decades. In the past, however, the volumes removed were relatively small. As populations and economies have grown in the region and construction materials have changed from wood to concrete, so too has the demand for sand. There are insufficient accessible, inland deposits of sand to satisfy demand. As a result, legal and illegal sand mining along beaches and shorelines, as well as in rivers, has increased. Remote beaches with road access are often targets for illegal mining.

River mining removes sediment before it has reached the shoreline. River sand is often regarded as good for construction because it is salt-free. However, its removal reduces the amount of sand available for transport to the beach.

Sand mining directly from a beach removes sand permanently from that system. The sand has a high salt content, which results in corrosion of the reinforcing bars and cracking of the plaster. Beach sand is, therefore, not ideal for construction unless washed. Washing requires a large volume of water which, on some of the smaller islands, may not be readily available.

On some of the volcanic islands, gravel and stones are also removed from the beach for use in construction. Removal of this material has the same effect as the removal of sand, namely erosion.

Removal of sand, gravel or stones from the beach or dune system will cause the water line to retreat.

Mining anywhere along a beach may affect a particular coastal property. The mining activity does not have to be located immediately in front of the property concerned. Mining removes sand from the coastal system and may ultimately affect other beaches distant from the mining.

Beach processes cross man-made boundaries. An action can affect beaches that are remote from the actual intervention.

Mining also affects the nesting activities of endangered sea turtles. Nests may be destroyed during mining. Furthermore, baby turtles follow the beach slope down to the sea. A mining pit may totally disorientate them and reduce their chances of reaching the sea.

In most of the Caribbean islands, beach sand mining is controlled by law, with permits having to be obtained from the relevant authorities. Some islands allow sand mining from certain designated beaches on a permit basis. Mining may vary from a few bags of sand to large-scale operations using heavy equipment. Obviously, the larger the scale, the greater the erosion.

On some islands, sand is also mined from dunes. Sand dunes are part of the beach system and must be managed as such. Dunes are built by wind action and provide reservoirs of sand that feed the beach during tropical storms and hurricanes. They are also important habitats. On some islands, dunes have been destroyed in the process of supplying construction sand, leaving beaches depleted and coastal lands vulnerable to flooding.

It is important to realize that there are other sources of sand available for construction. For example, on most of the volcanic islands, fine crusher dust from the local quarry can be substituted for most sand uses, although it is usually necessary to alter the relative proportions of sand, water and cement in the construction mix. In addition, there may be a cost factor involved. Quarry products may be more expensive. Dredging sand from the offshore zone may be another alternative, but environmental impact assessments and the like are required before such projects may be undertaken. (See also Case 5.) On many islands, the rounded grains of beach sand make it the preferred material for the final finishing or plastering.

Photograph 19. Pre-mining conditions, Diamond
Bay, Saint Vincent, 1980. On this wide beach 
backed by sand dunes, some mining has 
already commenced. Note the truck and the pit 
in the foreground.

Photograph 20. Post-mining conditions, Diamond 
Bay, Saint Vincent, 1995. The dunes have been
removed and the beach has disappeared. The 
sea is now cutting into the land that once lay 
behind the dunes.

P R A C T I C A L
R E S P O N S E S

Determine where sand mining is occurring.

It is not difficult to see where mining is taking place. Miners usually target the berm crest, back beach or dunes that are accessible from the road. They create large, uneven pits in the beach that could not possibly have a natural origin. Tyre tracks leading to and from the site are other tell-tale signs. Some legally designated mining sites may be enclosed with fences.

The end result of sand mining is a reduction in sediment in the beach system, regardless of whether the extraction is from the dune, the back beach area, the foreshore, or the seabed immediately adjacent to the beach.

Determine the legality of the mining operation.

Owing to a severe sand shortage in many Caribbean islands, governments have had to take fairly drastic measures to service the supply, while also preventing uncontrolled beach mining. Certain islands have designated beaches where mining can be conducted. However, even at these designated sites, permits are usually necessary. Whether legal or illegal, mining destroys the natural coastal environment. Beaches and dunes cannot be rebuilt by nature as quickly as we are able to truck them away. Many Caribbean islands have legislation prohibiting mining of the foreshore and seabed areas. The public library or Attorney General’s chambers should be able to provide this information. Most islands have an agriculture planning or public works agency that is responsible for the control of sand mining.

Report apparent incidences of illegal sand mining to the planning authorities and police.

If you see sand mining taking place, check with your local government authorities as to whether it is legal. Sand mining is a lucrative business and there may be some personal risk involved in approaching the miners directly. There may even be an element of risk involved in alerting the relevant authorities. Nonetheless, self-interest is a strong incentive and mining affects everyone who uses the beach.

It is always best to act in the common good.

Remember that there is strength in numbers.

If possible, seek to develop a consensus among your coastal neighbours on the issues. Your problem is also your neighbour’s problem – or it will be in the near future. The authorities may be more inclined to respond to a large group of concerned citizens than to an individual.

Practise what you preach.

Do not take sand from the beach yourself and do not buy beach sand for the construction of your house. Check out other sand sources available on the island. While other sand sources may be more expensive in the short term, you will be gaining in the long term, for your building will require less maintenance and may have a longer life.

Do not take sand from the beach yourself and do not buy beach sand.

Lobby your parliamentary representative.

Particularly if you cannot get any satisfaction from your local authorities, lobby your parliamentary representative for help. Invite him/her to the site to inspect the damage first-hand.

Take photographs of the mining operation.

Remember, a picture is often worth a thousand words. Take photographs of the mining and the damage caused.

 

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