The process of harvesting sand from coastal regions is known as sand mining. Sand can be mined from anywhere it is found in great quantities, such as lake shores, river banks or sea shores, or it can be dredged from a seabed. Harvested sand serves a number of functions and plays an important role in many modern manufacturing activities, such as the creation of roads, concrete and glass. It also can be used to repair damaged coastlines.
Sand occurs naturally when rocks and other minerals break down. Although the exact makeup of sand varies greatly from place to place and depends largely on the type of rock found in a given location, its most common primary component is the mineral quartz. The most highly prized sand for mining is known as unbounded sand, which contains smaller amounts of clay and other impurities than other sands. Such sand is most frequently found in dunes, coastal sand strips, and within sandstone.
Despite the industrial value of sand mining, the practice raises a number of environmental concerns. Most noticeably, sand mining is directly responsible for a great deal of erosion, which can adversely affect the natural ecosystem of a location. The sand mining process can also have a negative impact on the wildlife of an area as well, because the fragile habitat of many coastal fish, animal and plant species can be disrupted if the process is not carefully monitored. Although there are laws in place to prevent such over-mining in many locations, illegal sand mining often still occurs.
Although sand is one of the most abundant resources in the world, composing, perhaps, 20 percent of the Earth’s surface, it still remains a finite resource. There is some concern that intense industrial mining practices might eventually cause a global shortage. Although sand is constantly being created naturally, the rate at which it is consumed often outweighs the natural rate of replenishment.
Sand mining is a major industry in many places where sand is abundant. Millions of tons of sand are harvested each year. The demand for high-quality mined sand is likely to increase as more manufacturing and industrial uses for sand are found.