Icon Story highlights

  • There has been a 20-fold increase in extraction of sand.
  • Sand mining has huge implications for communities regarding equity and human rights concerns.
  • It is necessary to include sea bed sand mining in better ways in the law.

SwedBio facilitated a webinar by The Swedish Ocean Platform to End Poverty on sand-mining. It was co-organized with SwedBio, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management.

Sand is the unsung hero of our cities. It is used in myriad ways not only to create composite materials such as concrete and glass but also behind the scenes in many industrial processes. However, the scale and pace of extraction is far beyond what can be produced responsibly and is leaving behind massive social-ecological impacts in many parts of the world. What compounds the problem is that sand and gravel are non-renewable resources in human timescales and not every kind of sand is suitable for use in the current industrial system. 


During the webinar we hear from Kiran Pereira’s PhD Candidate at Stockholm Resilience Centre presenting on her research focusing on risks and opportunities of sand mining for global sustainability. Kiran has earlier worked as a social entrepreneur and founded SandStories.org, a platform dedicated to raising awareness of the looming sand crisis. She is the author of the book Sand Stories: Surprising Truths about the Global Sand Crisis and the Quest for Sustainable Solutions. 

“In the 20th century there has been a 20-fold increase in extraction of sand for the building and construction sector. But this resource is not renewable. Thus, there is a huge mismatch in the scale in which it is extracted and the pace in which it is consumed. The scale and size of which we are consuming sand is far from sustainable.Not all sand is equal, thus a one size fits all is not suitable. There are different types of sand being used for different purposes.”  – Kiran Pereira

Sand is a critically to the lives and livelihoods of communities and it underpins critical ecosystems. Sand plays a critical role in the ocean industry. The dredging sector is facilitating many other ocean industries, for instance in building critical infrastructure such as ports, off shore energy sectors, keeping shipping lanes clear etc. Also, it helps building land when not existing and beach nourishment. 

Sand dredging can be likened with the epoch changing tractor for the agriculture sector. Similarly, the dredging industry plays a role in the ocean economy and it is changing the ocean as we know it.

Often sand mining has huge implications for communities. Many times, it has huge equity and human rights concerns.  Communities affected are seldom being allowed to meaningfully participate in the decision making, it has determining implications on their livelihoods. Often times, infrastructure construction projects do not screen for human rights and social impacts. There are even examples of violence and armed conflicts as a consequence.

In the construction of the Manilla airport, for instance, communities were being denied of access to communal fishing grounds. Some of them were even forced to destroy their own houses for the construction to take place. People were violently abducted and only half of the about 700 families in one of the village that were displaced got some kind of monetary compensation. They thus struggle to earn a livelihood and to have a healthy diets. The airport construction was also destroying mangroves and encroached on a strict protection zone being a crucial migratory corridor for a big number of endangered bird species. The project first impact assessment stated: “There is a high possibility that the birds will be impacted, but due to their highly mobile nature they can transfer to other areas.” The construction makes the communities much more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as flooding. 

In the webinar there is also an interview with the Kenyan NGO CANCO, Community Action for Nature Conservation, a Kenyan Civil Society Organization working with good environmental governance, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources and responsible development intensively since 2008. From CANCO you will hear from Elijah Ngoa and Joyce Keingati. 

Elijah Ngoa is an Environmentalist working with CANCO under its marine ecosystems and fisheries programme since 2018. Elijah’s expertise is in; Ecosystem-Based Management, Fisheries, and Ocean Governance. At CANCO he has engaged intensively on environmental-related issues including undertaking participatory mangrove restoration, community capacity building pieces of training, Ecosystem dynamics, fisheries policy and advocacy, climate change adaptation and mitigation, etc. He has experience Elijah has been engaged on port development projects, and seabed sand-harvesting issues over the last four years.

Joyce Keingati is a Project Officer at CANCO responsible for implementing a marine ecosystems and fisheries project called “Enhancing Environmental Action to Catalyse Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries and Ecosystems’ Management in the Coastal Region of Kenya” aiming  to conduct advocacy campaigns for policy reforms towards small-scale fisheries in both the marine and inland water fisheries sectors. She has been engaged in sea bed sand mining issues through advocacy campaigns within CANCO’s networks. Working closely with small-scale fisher communities within the Kenyan coast.

Elijah and Joyce share about the large pressures on the ecosystems by the sea sand harvesting industry – It impacts livelihoods and food security of communities. Fisheries are being forced to move to other places, where in turn the fishing pressure increases and overfishing occurs. It has also impacted the tourism industry. For instance, in 2018-2019 sand was dredged for construction of the oil and gas terminal of Mombasa. It resulted in sand diminishing in beaches famous for being tourism attractions and has thus influenced the tourism. National authorities require environmental and social impact assessments for those kinds of projects, but many times it is only done as the project started. If communities then feel that the projects impact them, they can have an environmental tribunal by drafting complaints. This is however not an easy task. In this particular example, by that time the project was already on-going. Despite CANCO contributing to raising the issue in media, the project continued. There was no verdict from the tribunal. The tribunal said the complaint came in too late, though this was because the environmental and social impact assessment was done too late. Elijah sees a big risk that the issues of sea sand mining will increase, as according to cost-benefit analyses there is no easy and cheaper option than sea sand mining. What is needed is to shape the law to include sea bed sand mining better. There is a sea sand regulation but it does not cover sea bed sand mining. CANCO is training communities along the whole coast of Kenya in how they can agitate for their rights. They have also been working on the issue of compensation to communities. The government have been saying that they will give the communities boats, but it has not materialized. Though what is the point, first destroying the fishing grounds, and then give communities boats as a compensation?

You will also hear several interesting questions being asked by the participants to the presenters.