The UN Warns that Sand Dredging is Destroying Ocean Floors

The UN Warns that Sand Dredging is Destroying Ocean Floors

Posted on Oct 14, 2023 at 08:10 PM

Sand is the prerequisite for manufacturing glass and concrete, and it is the second-most-exploited natural resource globally after water.

According to the UNEP, confident sand extraction vessels act like "vacuum cleaners," indiscriminately dredging sand and microorganisms vital to the marine food chain. This destructive activity has far-reaching and long-term consequences for marine ecosystems, jeopardising their ability to recover in some areas.

ACCORDING TO A NEW REPORT PUBLISHED LAST MONTH, the UNEP agrees with those who oppose dredging, stating that the practice is unsustainable and catastrophic for the ocean floor. Data collected by a new tool called Marine Sand Watch, which tracks vessels and uses artificial intelligence to monitor dredging, was the source of the UNEP's analysis.

Concerning Effects on the Environment

Fifty billion tonnes of sand and gravel are used annually worldwide for manufacturing, infrastructure development, and other purposes. According to estimates, approximately 6 billion tonnes are directly caused by sand dredging.

Director of GRID-Geneva at UNEP Pascal Peduzzi stated, "This data signals the urgent need for better management of marine sand resources and to reduce the impacts of shallow sea mining." "UNEP calls on all interested parties, including member states and the dredging industry, to view sand as a strategic material and to start discussions as soon as possible on how to raise global dredging standards.

Marine Environment Sterilisation

Large vessels in this industry sterilise the seabed by removing sand and unintentionally erasing microorganisms essential to fish sustenance. In some situations, dredging reaches the bedrock, making the recovery of marine life impossible.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has called for an outright ban on beach sand dredging to protect coastal economies and resilience. Although sand is still needed to build roads, buildings, hydroelectric dams, and solar panel installations, it is also crucial for environmental preservation because it is a vital barrier against sea level rise.

In hotspots like the North Sea and the US East Coast, it employs artificial intelligence and so-called Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals for ships to detect the activities of dredging vessels.

The UN Warns that Sand Dredging is Destroying Ocean Floors

The Turning Point

Peduzzi warned at a press conference that although the turning point has not been reached globally, "we are extracting it faster than it can replenish itself" in some areas. The regions with the highest marine dredging activity are the North Sea, Southeast Asia, and the US East Coast. International norms and regulations, however, differ significantly.

In the past two decades, several nations, including Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia, have taken significant steps to outlaw the export of marine sand, recognising such activities' environmental and ecological impacts. However, in many other countries, there still exists a need for more legislation and oversight initiatives.

Notably, China has emerged as a global leader in the marine sand industry, boasting the most extensive dredging fleet in the world. Countries like the Netherlands, the United States, and Belgium follow closely behind. Such powerful dredging fleets highlight the continued demand and competition in the marine sand industry and the importance of addressing sustainability and environmental concerns associated with sand extraction on a global scale.[5]



Adopting sustainable practices and regulations to stop the widespread exploitation of this priceless resource is urgent, as the UNEP's warning emphasises.

Not only does this jeopardise the lives of communities reliant on healthy coastal ecosystems, but it also puts marine biodiversity at risk. The need to preserve our oceans and secure our future must be balanced with the high demand for sand.

The above practices mainly involve private companies, and contractors are focused on economic revenue to a large extent. The notable destruction of the seabed, fauna, flora, and biological resources is irreversible. Sadly, international law does not possess policing powers over our oceans. The initiative to stop those destructive practices must emerge from a convinced coastal state that future generations will remember us for our kindness to the marine & coastal environment or will curse us for destroying them. The choice is crystal clear.  


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