Sand Mining Threatens Ecosystems and Endangered Species


Across Asia, rampant extraction of sand is eroding coastlines and scouring waterways. San mining is taking a toll that scientists are beginning to assess—and environmentalists hope to reduce. (Science)

How do miners “quarry” sand? Use our resource to learn more.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

A sand quarry stretches along the banks of the Kaveri River in the state of Tamil Nadu, India.
Photograph by Pjeganathan, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-4.0

Discussion Ideas


  • There are millions of tons of beautiful sand in the Sahara, Gobi, Great Sandy, and other sandy deserts around the world. Why are mining interests focusing on estuarine and coastal lands for sand quarries?
    • wrong type of sand.Although desert sand is plentiful, its wind-tumbled particles are too smooth—and therefore not cohesive enough—for construction material. Instead, builders prize sand from quarries, coastlines, and riverbeds. ‘The very best sand for construction is river sand; it’s the right particle size and shape.’”
      • Titanium- and zirconium-rich sands make building materials more resistant to saltwater corrosion.
      • The silica-rich sand plentiful in Wisconsin and Minnesota is the preferred type of sand used in fracking operations.



  • How is sand mining impacting the built environment, or constructed parts of a landscape?
    • coastal erosion. Sand mining severely increases the instances of coastal erosion. Coastal erosion impacts infrastructure (such as bridges and roads), local industry, agriculture, and housing. Coastal erosion also radically weakens the ability of the coast to resist severe storms, making coastal communities more vulnerable to flooding and high winds.
    • river management. Sand mining can alter the course of rivers and streams, changing flood patterns and marine currents.


  • How do scientists, engineers, and policymakers recommend mitigating the impact of sand mining?
    • Tough question, as issues such as rapid development, land reclamation, and fracking are very controversial. Stakeholders include local communities and multinational corporations, working-class miners and billionaire businessmen.
    • “’We are not saying we need to stop sand mining altogether. We are saying we need to minimize the impacts,’ says Jack Liu, a biologist … Construction standards should be raised to extend building longevity, he says, and building materials should be recycled.”



Science: Asia’s hunger for sand takes a toll on endangered species

United Nations Environment Programme: Sand, rarer than one thinks

Nat Geo: What is a quarry?

One thought on “Sand Mining Threatens Ecosystems and Endangered Species

  1. This is a fantastic piece! Thank you NatGeo! I’d also like to submit for more information. For all the visual learners out there, you will find a short video that offers a brief introduction to the topic and the community resources section offers a great starting point. Feel free to use them in your classrooms.

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