Sand Mining: An Ecological Threat

- A. Jospeh Thatheyus, Ph.D.
Department of Zoology, The American College,
Madurai - 625 002, Tamil Nadu, India
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 12 (2002), 224.

Indiscriminate mining of sand in the river basins, coastal areas and hill regions of Southern India particularly in the state of Tamil Nadu has posed serious threats to ecology and social life. Due to mining, the river bed is exposed to sunlight leading to dry conditions. Hence water availability has fallen down and the available water turns into saline. This in turn affects fish breeding and catch, thus affecting the livelihoods of fisherfolk. Sand mining affects irrigation and water supply also. The ecology of the lotic habitat is altered due to sand mining. Sand dunes offer a chance to study the phenomenon of succession effectively. For example in Lake Michigan dunes, the succession is slow because of the sand substrate and a series of communities of various ages are available.It acts as a "natural laboratory of succession". "Indiana dunes" affected by the encroachment of industry has become a subject of concern for the conservationists. These areas not only have a previous natural beauty, but also constitute a natural "teaching laboratory" for the study of succession of communities (Odum, 1971).

Mangroves like Rhizophora species and Avicennia species which harbour prawns and fish are essential for mineral cycling are affected when coastal sand is mined. In the Bible it is said that, "God gave Solomon the largeness of heart like the sand on the shore" (1 Kings 4:29). But the miners with their money, muscle power and political influence can mine in the areas even after the expiry of their licenses. Because of their selfish attitude they can dig to several metres of depth, removing 4 to 6 times the permitted quota. The miners have to confine themselves to the areasspecified and the depth of mining should not exceed 90 cm. The adverse consequences of this activity includes the depletion of groundwater supplies, lesser availability of water for industrial, agricultural and domestic purposes, destruction of cultivable land, loss of employment to farm labourers, threat to livelihoods, human rights violation and damage to roads and bridges (Viswanathan, 2002).

In certain areas, there is illegal mining for silicon sand. Mining of coastal sand for construction purposes and uranium extraction causes damage to the coastal ecology, resulting in sea erosion affecting fishing communities. Miners encroach into the space used by the fishermen to land their catch and keep the fishing vessels traditionally. Sand has long been recognized as being unstable, for example in the Bible, Jesus said, "Everyone who hears these sayings of mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand" (Mathew 7:26). The disappearance of sand dunes has made the inland vulnerable to cyclones.Illegal mining results in sea water intrusion leading to the salinisation of well water and the depletion of groundwater resources. A contributory factor is that the lorries can operate only at specific hours due to government restrictions and hence they are overloaded with the mined sand  and the journeys are accident prone. Indirectly it causes damage to the roads, bridges and people are affected with the lungs-related diseases because of the dust from these lorries.

The miners are responsible for the disharmony in local communities and exploit the caste conflicts to their advantage. It creates rivalry among the village poor, when miners encourage the local people in mining activities by giving money, it spoils the general morale and human ethical values. Agitators against sand mining have faced custodial violence and human rights violations.

Sand mining resulted in the destruction of numerous coconut trees along the river basins affecting the growers who were reaping the benefits for about 100 years. Several people lost their livelihoods. Even several Palmyrah trees were destroyed resulting in the migration of agricultural labour, there is an increase in school dropout rates and rise in number of child workers. To have control over this ecological threat for the preservation of lotic and marine ecosystems the government has to enact and enforce stringent laws with effective functioning of the judiciary system. Environmentalists and soil experts must be consulted for fixing the areas to be used for soil mining with depth specifications.Voluntary agencies can engage themselves in creating awareness about this among the public.


Odum EP. 1971. Fundamentals of Ecology. Third edition, W.B. Saunders Co, London, 574 p.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version (I Kings 4:29; Genesis 2:17; 32:12; Matthew 7:26).

Viswanathan, S. 2002. Mining dangers. Frontline. May 24 (The Hindu Publications), pp. 44-46.

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