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Sand Theft (wikipedia.org)
171 points by 2Pacalypse- on Dec 11, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 92 comments

My home state Kerala in India is subject to rampant sand mining. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b20dlI0_ZtU Ironically, we fuel this via demand for coarse sand in construction.

The impact is immediate. Rivers are drying up and water beds are going deeper down: https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/sand...

This is infuriating. The video shows just how casual this whole enterprise is. It would be a piece of cake to enforce laws and shut this down elsewhere, the only way this makes sense is that there is deep rooted corruption?

Yeah in India local politicians and higher level members of the state government profit from this

The bjp government along with police is trying to use Satellite surveillance to stop sand mining. But it's only partially working...

About 10-12 years ago, almost every construction I came across in Bangalore used to use river sand. Today, most construction sites I see use M-sand or manufactured sand. River sand is at least 4x the cost of M-sand and that has automatically driven people to shift to using M-sand. River sand mining bans have also increased the cost to sand miners, who in turn pass it on to their clients down the chain, so it's helping...

Ah, a fellow Half as Interesting viewer :)


This is a channel run by the same guy from Wendover Productions, highly recommend subscribing. Especially if you're into obscure things such as sand theft, or … really, anything aviation related.

I like that channel, but it really bothers me how they never list any sources in their description. That should be mandatory for all educational channels, IMO.

HAI doesn't, but his "more serious" educational channel Wendover Productions does (numbers in corners referenced in the description).

I wonder if there are any research towards adapting desert sand for use in concrete? It would solve this "problem" in a jiffy.

With the size of the construction industry and the matching need for sand, I can't imagine this being an avenue left unexplored.

Desert sand is rounded, river sand is spiky.

I've wondered if we could melt the desert sand into glass and use machines to get it back down to the right coarseness.

It's one of the ways I think widely available & cheap renewable energy would help solve most of the worlds resource shortages

Also happened in London until 1871, although technically it wasn't theft as it was from common land which had the right to dig confirmed in 1780:

"During the 19th century, there was an increasing demand for the high quality Bagshot Sand, for use in building and iron foundry casts. In response to this demand ... Eight loads a day in 1814 rose to thirty loads a day in 1866. ... [By 1871] The whole space on the summit of the hill, to the right and the left of the high road ... has been ruthlessly dug up for gravel and sand; leaving a dreary, desert prospect of hideous pits and shapeless heaps as far as the view extends over the hill itself, with a few miserable furze bushes here and there, a ragged tuft of dusty ling; but without one square yard of verdant turf for a baby to roll on. The very body of the earth had been cut away to an amazing depth, with the entire surface of those parts of the heath which formed the brow and crown of the hill. Holes are scooped out close to the high road thirty feet or forty feet deep ..."[0]

[0] https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/ha...

What I found most interesting about this article is Singapore's practice of buying an incredible amount of sand and using it to make more Singapore.

I made sure to read the cited source because this claim sounded way too similar to some past Wikipedia edit pranks.

Other examples from Florida, where Miami spends millions to replenish its beaches:


And there are some interesting legal ramifications w.r.t importing sand from foreign sources:


http://www.harvarddesignmagazine.org/issues/39/built-on-sand... there are a lot of great articles on Singapore. Their entire economy ultimately rests on non-stop construction. Being an island, this would eventually stop, unless they continually expand! So expand, via sand, they do.


I selfishly hope that the practice gets banned so that Singapore is forced to figure out how to engineer floating cities (they have the skill set!)

Wouldn’t that have a very different effect with regard to the country’s borders? The sovereign zone wouldn’t get extended for a large flagging dock/boat I wouldn’t think.

Maybe they could build underwater on the sea-floor?

Unless I'm missing something here, doesn't that make sense (in the sense of the theft)? That the country would buy the sand to expand its territory?

Sand Property is Sand Theft. Also, in the case of Singapore, not all of it was used to make Singapore larger, some was used to resurface Marina Bay (formerly muddy) with nice clean sand, so it could act as a strategic freshwater reserve

I've never understood how they got the existing salt out of the water in the bay there after they completed the dam. Is that clear to you?

It's fed by freshwater rivers, providing pressure pushing the water in the bay out to sea; and they open the barrage at low tide so that water flows out (thus why it's a barrage and not a fixed dam). And then close it again at high tide, so saltwater doesn't flow back in.

It happens naturally. Add freshwater into a bowl full of brine, let it spill over continuously and pretty soon you've got almost only freshwater left.

Better yet, by performing succussions at appropriate intervals you'll create a homeopathic wonder drug.

You don't need sharp river sand for landfill. You can dredge regular sand from anywhere

Yeah, we could just dredge sand from poisoned seabeds around oil platforms with insufficient pollution controls.

Building on garbage dumps might not be the worst strategy, if it can be made safe? Garbage has to be dumped somewhere anyway?

Engineering of new refuse sites is pretty well understood and sophisticated these days, at least in most advanced economies. The bottom of the site is sealed with a multi-layer impermeable barrier, and any effluent 'liquor' flows down to a drain where it is tapped off for processing. Methane and other gaseous build-ups are vented through pipes at the top of the site.

Subsidence due to settlement of refuse over time is dealt with by well-known construction techniques for less-stable ground, such as deep piling. In some cases though it's simply more sensible to repurpose the land for amenity use, where subsidence is less of a concern than it would be for a residential area.

See in particular this fascinating recent article regarding GPS jamming and sand theft in the port of Shanghai: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/614689/ghost-ships-crop-c...

EDIT: I read some other, more complete sources, it looks like jamming.

Disclaimer: I worked at Trimble Nav Ltd. in the radio group.

In general, GPS errors could also be caused by:

- PRC MIL jamming non-military non-BeiDou positioning systems to prevent drone or cruise missile attacks

- US MIL increasing Selective Availability (SA) on or disabling the unencrypted signal for a region

- Physical obstructions: trees, buildings, etc.

You'd think huge ships would have laser ring gyro INS and GLONASS/Galileo/BeiDou as a backup? Depending on a locally-jammable, unencrypted data monoculture (GPS) for multiple critical systems is a SPOF and insane.

Selective Availability is on its way out. In addition to being disabled for 20 years, supposedly the new 3rd generation GPS satellites were built without the capability.

Also most of the US GPS guided ordnance cannot function when selective availability is enabled.

The reality is that cheap GPS chips enable so much more capability then the risk of your enemy benefiting from a mapping system.

JDAMs apparently have had an inertial system for backup for some time. MEMS gyros are good enough to guide from release to target. DARPA has quietly been working on compact, low-cost guidance without GPS for a while.[1] Doesn't seem to have filtered down to the commercial market yet, and that's probably not an accident.

[1] https://www.darpa.mil/program/micro-technology-for-positioni...

Considering that BeiDou uses the same frequency range as Galileo, is it really feasible for the military to jam one without the other?

> EDIT: I read some other, more complete sources, it looks like jamming.

Care to share those? It's an interesting topic but I don't have the base knowledge to make out bogus/incomplete information.

Wiki either mistakenly changed the title from "Beach Theft" to "Sand theft" or doesn't understand the issue.

Sand theft is common. It's normally stolen by illegally dredging rivers.

Singapore 'stealing' sand from Asian countries has been systematically going on for years.

It's the same as theft of wood. Everywhere where there are corrupt government officials, it's organised crime, sometimes people die over it, and it's easy to go watch while having a beer.

Beach theft, which the wiki currently predominantly talks about is different.

Planet money had an episode about this: https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/07/13/628894815/epis...

In Sardinia (Italy) we have a similar problem, many tourists steals beach sand as a souvenir. The number of tourists that does this is so big that some beaches got smaller, and goverment has choose to put a stop by giving huge fines and possibly jail time.


I'd be interested to see the distribution of amounts of sand stolen per person.

If 10% of people steal a shot-glass of sand as a momento from a beach 100 meters X 100 meters which has 1000 daily visitors, the sand goes down 1cm every hundred years, which is waay slower than sealevel rise.

If people start taking sackfulls home, the balance changes quickly though.

usually, there are pictures in the articles with images of the stolen sand.

The majority of time is not a shot-glass, but more like a bottle.

Here some pictures:

https://www.ilmessaggero.it/photogallery_img/MED/31/07/44531... https://www.repstatic.it/content/nazionale/img/2019/04/26/11... https://filecdn.nonsprecare.it/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/FU... https://www.gelestatic.it/thimg/xdU2x4YwGfNp33fZp0ePMCBh38M=... https://trekking.it/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/copertina1-10...

A shot-glass is around the tolerable level because it's the amount of sand you find in your shorts when you are back home from the beach.

Whatever department manages the beaches should insert themselves into this practice to moderate it. Sell pretty glass display bottles that are more attractive than a bag or soda bottle, but happen to be tiny. This wouldn't work if it inspired enough people to start collecting to outweigh the savings from intervention.

99% of the beaches are unmoderated (is an island so we have a lot of them). Tourists are usually caught at the airport or boarding the ferry (only 2 ways for leaving the island). Sometimes they are also spotted while they steal sand on the beach by the locals, that stops them and call the police.

The government should sell little glass test tubes for $5 each (ie. A very inflated price compared to the 10 cents such glassware costs). Put a government logo on them and a serial number.

Then put up signs at beaches saying "Taking sand is illegal unless you do it in a government vial". Allow tourist sellers to resell the vials on the beaches.

Then at airports and ports, allow those vials to go out filled with sand. Ban the import of vials (probably no need to enforce, because filling tiny containers is unlikely worth it on a criminal scale).

It's a very low effort way to tax a product without requiring tax returns and paperwork.

Stamp their passports! No more Sardinia for them! Ever!

A classic example of how boring governments are. All they can do is ban, fine and imprison. If I were the governor I'd just import the sand from Sahara and include the expenses (as well as some reasonable profit) in the beach entrance fee. They are going to have to import it anyway, why not just accept the reality and turn the problem into business?

I hope you are joking. The sand that is stolen is not just any sand, people steals that sand because it's different, for example, some sand is pink, some is made by small quartz stones, some is red, some is black. Replacing it with generic Sahara sand will result in a "new" beach, and is not what we want. We want to stop people from taking the sand, not make a business out of it.

A spoiler: The people won't stop. No matter how hard you ban.

I don't think they need to stop it completely. They just need to reduce it enough that it doesn't outpace the beach's ability to replenish the sand.

Tragedy of the commons fatalism, eh?

I guess there's nothing we can do - burn everything.

> If I were the governor I'd just import the sand from Sahara and include the expenses

It's much easier to prevent it than to fix it by transporting tonnes of sands from africa to wherever the sand is needed. Being able to pay for something doesn't magically make it a good idea. Plus I'm not sure westerners coming to Africa to take sand for their beaches will be well received.

Sahara sand is different from beach sand. It's very fine and when it gets wet it feels more like paste then sand. It's why the UAE has to import sand for construction projects even though the cities are literally built on top of it.

The UAE is also nowhere near the Sahara desert, for what it's worth.

Just wait until someone figures out that rising sea levels in the countries near Singapore were due to faulty measurements caused by sand theft.

This is fascinating science. Can you explain more?

From what I understand it is a side effect of people trying to add curvature to the Earth's flat surface.

There is a rocky beach near where I live in Halifax Nova Scotia that was once a very large sand beach. It was mostly "taken" for highway and other construction: http://library2.smu.ca/xmlui/bitstream/handle/01/25865/hudak...

"However, from as early as the 1940s, the beach was also the site of commercial resource extraction. Because of this, by 1966, it had ceased to operate as a fully functional recreational site. Rapid and dramatic changes to its geomorphological formation, due to the large-scale removal of its sand and gravel, saw the gradual reduction of Silver Sands’ once ‘silvery’ crest, into a predominantly rocky shoal. Particularly between the latter half of the 1950s and the mid 1960s, but all the way until 1971, its material was being used for various government construction projects around the Halifax Regional Municipality.


I am not surprised.

I built a 6x6x2 foot sandbox for my son and was pleasantly surprised that it would cost me around $720 to fill it with play sand from home depot. Maybe there is a way to get 'play sand' in bulk that I am not aware of. Most bulk sand you can buy is construction sand and isn't actually sand but ground up rocks and is very bad for playing with.

I just built a 5x5 box for my kids and was also surprised by the cost of the play sand. Did a little shopping around though and I think I spent $200 CDN to fill the box. Most places I think were selling for $10-13/bag, but I ended up finding $5/bag play sand.

Buying by the bag is the problem right there. All these things get so much cheaper if you can transport 1 tonne bulka-bags. 20/40kg bags of anything all cost about the same because the bagging is the cost.

The trouble unless you're tooled up for it, 1 tonne bags are near impossible to move, and double in price to have delivered, where they are still impossible for you to move except incrementally.

Interestingly the 1.5 tonne tray capacity on the Cybertruck would be appealing for exactly that reason - you'd actually have a vehicle which can actually carry that (ute I borrowed from my inlaws caps out at 750kgs).

Case in point: In the UK I can buy 20kg bags of sand from Amazon for ~10-20GBP, or a 1000kg for ~50 GBP. Both including delivery. I still ended up buying a bunch of 20kg bags last summer, exactly for the reasons you point out - 1 ton was too much and impossible for me to move other than by bagging it up myself...

That seems a bit low. Here in SA most of our most sold bakkies can carry around 1 to 1.3 tons.

try leaching on another delivery... find a small construction site near you and nicely ask to pay for a partial delivery. Some hardware stores might even suggest that

This is a topic with very scant literature. I'm curious if there's an account of global sand reserves. Unlike oil/shale, other mineral resources, it seems like available construction sand is basically all discovered by virtue of being on the surface. I'm wondering if there are predictions for peak sand, what current sand reserves translates to in total tons of future concrete production etc. Otherwise it seems like the kind of resource that need to managed properly, seeing how land reclamation projects will be increasingly necessary with raising water levels. Engineered timbre can replace some building needs, but I can't think of an alternative to concrete for other critical infrastructure like roads.

Sand is also renewable - it ie created by erosion continously. Although the volume is likely insufficient. If a holy grail of cheap enough energy grinding solid rock through some means could theoretically produce the desired grained sand at an affordable price.

Not “theft” but interesting sand activities: https://www.hawaiimagazine.com/blogs/hawaii_today/2009/2/20/...

“Erosion and rising sea levels have swallowed a foot of Waikiki Beach annually since 1985. This phenomenon, while accelerated in the last few decades, is nothing new. Reports from the 1920s and 1930s reveal that sand was brought in from Manhattan Beach, California, via ship and barge, to Waikiki Beach. Importation of sand into Hawaii ceased in the 1970s.”

The 'sand mafia' fuelling India's $120 billion building boom (2017)


India's Sand Mafia: The Dark Secrets of India's Construction Industry (2017, video) by Journeyman Pictures, and recommended by ABC Australia


I wonder if sand is only found on the intersection of water and land, or if it found throughout the ocean (just inconveniently under the water)

Also, on a humorous note:

Geologists: 'We May Be Slowly Running Out Of Rocks'


I believe the sand theft taking place is done as the sand is good for construction. Namely jagged enough for aggregate (hence why the can’t use smooth sand from the desert). The shape of the sand is primarily caused by the motion of the water.

Sand theft is very rampant on Long Island. On the north shore, where there have been a slew of high-density developments built, first thing developers do is scrape all of the sand from the lot. Some projects are actually built on what was once sandy bluffs. The sand indigenous to LI is a fine sugar sand, valued for it's quality in concrete manufacture. There are entire lots where sand is excavated and then left for drainage issues. As one can guess, sand mining is heavily regulated and usually prohibited by law. The sand acts as a filter as water leaches down to recharge the aquifer where most of LI gets it's drinking water from.So think about that... they're destroying the land's ability to provide potable water because of greed. Yes, the aquifer fresh water levels are decreasing and pollution plumes are growing. As the fresh water level goes down, it acts to suck salt water into the aquifer.

The 99% Invisible podcast ran a good episode on this subject, and particularly the effects of sand theft. https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/built-on-sand/

I'm from Tamilnadu state in south India and I have seen this happen. This is called _manarkollai_ and its so rampant. There are some activist groups trying to make a difference and it has resulted in very little progress. Immediate substitution to coarse river sand is needed!

First off I think this is terrible, people and companies that take part in these practices including the purchasers should be caught and punished. That being said, this reminds me of a story about people taking the pebbles from the island the ABBA movie Mama Mia was filmed and to some extent the planet Bethselamin in the book HHG2G.

A Mexican company has been stealing tons of sand from Monterey (CA) beaches for years:


Wasn't there a startup few years ago that made desert sand usable for construction? What happened?

Isn't sand made of silicon, which is one of the most common elements on Earth? I don't quite understand why it's scarce enough that stealing it's viable.

Diamonds are made of carbon which is also very common... But more seriously: different sands have different properties, and when you need a shit ton of something no matter how cheap it is stealing is always cheaper.

Most of the time, the sand is used to create new land. It's not scarce but it's not everywhere either.

Only some sands are suitable for construction.

Dubai import most of their sand despite being in a desert.

It would be interesting to relate this practices with the mafia's construction companies and building materials theft in grand.

In construction, are bricks a good alternative to concrete?

They are complementing each other, concrete is a terrible heat insulator, hard to work with (requires molds and steel reinforcements), heavier than bricks which requires a stronger design, hard to live with (think of drilling, moving walls), more expensive than bricks (depending on the exact usage though) and gives no benefits over bricks in terms of strength.

Bricks are used to build the bulk of walls, and concrete is used in floors and reinforcement of the walls and above/around doors and windows

What are the other disadvantage of brick? I guess you cannot make 4+ stories buildings with it?

Unreinforced masonry, like a church, are extremely inefficient in terms of material and labor, think 6 foot deep walls that taper up to carry load. Optimally, bricks work in conjunction with reinforced concrete skeleton for modern construction. Cost is also a big factor, especially in developed countries, more so for high quality finishes. There's a case for small brick constructions in less developed countries with high unemployment and low wages.

In terms of embodied energy, brick veneer (composite of materials with a layer of exterior brick) typically have the best life-cycle ecological performance, 20%-60% better, compared to curtain wall (glass+steel) and precast concrete panels, across many climates and regions. Engineered wood for buildings is probably the better option in the long run. There's a lot of movement recently, construction is a very slow and conservative industry though. Probably need for results to be validated. A lot of claims are by industry publications. But intuitively it feels right.

I'm not sure what the GP means. Precast concrete elements have been a ubiquitous building material since the 60s, exactly because they're much cheaper to make and build from than brick walls.

that's not how it works, nowadays concrete columns are the thing that supports the weight of the building, the space between the columns is then filled with bricks.

Floors are usually made of thinner concrete, although sometimes a design of concrete mesh is used to save weight with the gaps filled with Styrofoam or light bricks, and then a thin layer of concrete is poured on it to serve as the foundation to the floor tiles.

The concrete floors also serve an important goal of supporting and delivering horizontal forces in the building.

This means that there is no technical limit to the height of bricks buildings, although there might be practical reasons not to use them.

Below is an example of how it looks [0]

In the not so distant past bricks used to carry the load of the building, and indeed that has limitations to how high buildings can be,

[0] https://globalist.in/tk-cement-interlock-brick-kuttippuram/b...

Googling shows the tallest regularly shaped building to be 16 floors high: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monadnock_Building

When I read such poorly written Wikipedia articles, I just remember how little I should trust these things.

Related: Chernozem "theft". Ukraine is literally selling off its soil smh


Nice video from Maui Now about it. I think Claire and Kaniloa do a better job explaining it than I do.


Yes, I did also just watch that HAI video... :)

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