We love to hit the beach, it’s a feast for all senses. We hear the waves crashing and feel the fine sand trickling between our toes. By the way do you know where all that sand comes from. All those that chuckled, go to the head of the class. For the rest of you the answer is Parrotfish. That’s right, most of that beautiful, soft, white, sand, especially on tropical beaches near coral reefs comes from Parrotfish, to be exact its “parrotfish poop.” And I have the video to prove it
Parrotfish are beautifully colored and named for their enormous front teeth that resemble a parrot’s beak. And parrotfish love to eat coral, actually they chew up the coral to get to the algae-filled polyps inside. They are coral eating machines, coral in one end and fine sand excreted out the other end. Fascinating, heard enough yet? And I haven’t even begun to tell you about how parrotfish sleep in a cocoon of snot, or as we politely say mucus.
Ode to Parrotfish
Parrotfish are very hard working or maybe to be more accurate we should talk about how hungry they are! An Aussie adult parrotfish will produce a ton of sand each year. In fact parrotfish are so amazing that songwriters write songs about them. I just couldn’t help myself.
Where is all that Sand Going?
Now to the really serious part of our story, written and researched by our new Blue Ocean contributor Molly Connell.
The summer season is the best when you have a chance to go to the beach. But the possibility that your beach could be gone in the next century is horrifying. Unfortunately, this threat is real, Sand is an essential component in the concrete used in the foundations, floors and supports of most modern buildings. And with growing global populations and increasing urbanization worldwide, the demand for concrete has exploded.
China is a great example. As a result of China’s growing population and rapid development they used more cement in 2016-17, than the United States did throughout the 20th century. And they got that sand for that cement from beaches throughout Asia. This phenomenon is not limited to China, rapid urbanization and construction is occurring around the globe. (photo – CNN Money)
Demand For Sand Up 360%
In the last 30 years, the demand for sand increased by 360%. According to recent studies, at the pace we extract sand currently there is a serious risk that many beaches will disappear by the end of the century and become a thing of the past.
If we exhaust our reserves of sand, we face a big issue. For a grain of sand to erode and travel to the coasts from the mountains can take up to 1000 years (parrotfish are much faster) certainly not able to keep pace with the demands of the construction industry. Thus, all that sand is an increasingly valuable commodity and that brings us to the “Sand Mafia.” These are illegal organizations around the world that mine or steal sand and then sell it to desperate buyers. (photo – Hindu Business Line)
Oviously the need for regulations that protect the coasts and restricts massive sand extraction is becoming more and more necessary.
Finding Alternatives to Sand
Seeing what damage the sand mining industry both legal and illegal, causes to both the environment and society, it is no surprise that there are many projects rushing to find alternatives to traditional sand. Using glass, clay and even recycled concrete are all new concepts being explored. Maybe breeding more parrotfish should be considered.
As much as these initiatives are a good start, there’s still a long road in front of us. A first step is for us to spread an awareness of the problem and that’s where you can help. Find out more about “all that sand”, where it comes from and where it goes and spread the word. Here’s a great resource to get you started: http://trademachines.com/info/sand/
By Molly Connell, Blue Ocean Contributor
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