8 SEPTEMBER 2017 • VOL 357 ISSUE 6355 971 SCIENCE sciencemag.org
hundreds of people have been killed in “sand
wars” (3). To gain land through land-recla-mation projects, Singapore relies on sand
imports from neighboring countries; the latter lose sand and suffer the consequences of
mining, frequently leading to political tensions, accusations of illegal sand extraction,
and sand export bans (5).
All these challenges have important implications for environmental justice. The degradation brought about or reinforced through
sand extraction places heavy burdens on local
populations, especially on farmers, fishers,
and those—typically women—fetching water
for households. People from these populations may become environmental refugees,
as has already happened in Sri Lanka and the
Mekong Delta (10, 11). Increased vulnerability of eroded areas to flooding and landslides
may directly displace populations, as shown
by the recent relocation of over 1200 households in Vietnam (10).
IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH
Current development trends suggest that
sand demand will increase further in the
coming years. The resulting acceleration of
sand extraction, trade, and consumption will
have escalating effects on environmental and
human systems. There is a pressing need for
an effective global sand governance system.
Effective governance will require detailed
knowledge of how much sand is used locally
as well as globally and how much of this sand
is replenished through natural processes.
Several characteristics of sand contribute to
the impression that it is an abundant or re-
newable resource. Sand is scattered all over
Earth’s crust and, in some deposits, is con-
tinually replenished by sediment transport.
Furthermore, it is relatively inexpensive to
extract, and as in the case of many mined
substances, the negative consequences of
mining are not felt at the point of consump-
tion, but rather in the poorer regions where
mining occurs. But is this perception of sand
as an abundant and renewable resource a
delusion? Sand is a scarce resource in many
parts of the world, but it is unclear if, globally,
sand demand exceeds supply. We urgently
need to move beyond estimating past and fu-
ture sand demand and toward disentangling
the global sand budget.
To illuminate complex interlinkages between sand demand, mining, trade, transport, and consumption, researchers must use
interdisciplinary approaches. Systems integration frameworks and methods have been
useful in addressing management challenges
of other resources such as water and carbon
(14). Considering all systems, from extractive
areas to consumption points, in a holistic and
systematic way will help to elucidate the hid-
den impacts of sand extraction and trade.
For instance, applying the framework
of telecoupling—long-distance interactions
between socioeconomic and environmen-
tal systems (14)—to this issue would allow
capturing complex relationships and global
consequences across three intertwined sys-
tems: the sending systems where sand is
mined; the receiving systems, such as urban
areas, where sand is consumed; and spill-
over systems—that is, areas through which
the sand is transported or that are affected
by its extraction and consumption. Use of
this approach would help to unravel inter-
connections between distant places such as
importing and exporting countries, clarify
responsibilities of local and remote extrac-
tion of sand, address spillover effects such
as invasive species or carbon emissions,
guide policies across scales and boundar-
ies, and anticipate cascading effects such as
those described above.
On the governance side, efforts to increase
efficiency of sand use and trade should include recycling policies and avoiding waste
along the supply chain. However, although
recycling helps alleviate pressures on sand
resources, there are currently no alternatives to satisfying skyrocketing global demand without drastic innovation. Achieving
responsible consumption will require fostering coordination among multiple national
and international policies; establishing controls on planning, permission, prospecting,
extraction, and monitoring for the mining
industry; developing payments for environmental and social damage; and building
capacity for the sustainability of sand appropriation. Simultaneously, regulations should
be crafted for local contexts (15) and must be
accompanied by effective enforcement and
monitoring. With increased attention to the
complex linkages of sand scarcity, our global
community can begin to understand how to
use sand more sustainably and avert a tragedy of the sand commons. j
REFERENCES AND NOTES
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11. K.Pereira,R.Ratnayake, WaterIntegrityin Action.Curbing
Illegal Sand Mining in Sri Lanka (Water Integrity Network,
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13. R. W.Merritt et al., PLOS Negl. Trop. Dis. 4,e911(2010).
14. J. Liu etal.,Science 347, 1258832 (2015).
15. E.Ostrom,Science 325,419(2009).
We thank S. Nichols for helpful comments on an earlier version
and acknowledge funding from the U.S. National Science
Foundation, NASA-MSU Professional Enhancement Awards
Program, US-IALE Foreign Scholar Travel Award Program,
Dartmouth Neukom Institute, and Michigan AgBioResearch.
At the start of this project, A. T. was at the Museo Nacional de
Ciencias Naturales, Madrid.
Illegal sand mining on the bank of the Yamuna
River in Greater Noida, India, is contributing to
severe environmental degradation.