By Nancy Collisson
A popular novelty item sold at dime-store checkout counters throughout the US during the late 1970s was called the mood ring. Its tin setting sported a quartz stone that contained a thermochromic liquid crystal element. According to its inventors Josh Reynolds and Maris Ambats, this element changed the appearance of the color of the quartz color due to body temperature changes affected by a particular emotional state of its wearers. Placard ads for mood rings stated that red in the stones reflected anxiety; blue, calm; and green, happiness. Their original creations set in silver and gold were first picked up by upscale Bonwit Teller, but when word got out about this fascinating gewgaw, crazed demand turned it into a wildly affordable fad.
This gay trinket came to mind as I contemplated what must be the very grim moods indeed of stakeholders of luxury beachfront hotel investors who likely agonize over the collective billions of dollars they’re forced to spend every few years to shore up their shorelines with ordinary boring brown sand.
What if, I wondered, these owners were to provide their beach-loving guests the unique opportunity to gawk at and frolic upon firmly packed and staggeringly beautiful aqua, indigo or peach-colored beaches comprised predominantly of tiny sparkly bits of colorful recycled glass aggregate?
Doing so, surely they would be able to achieve the Mood Ring Effect. Mesmerized guests keen to experience this pretty exciting new trend would spend collective billions of dollars to do so. At the same time, owners would save billions by reducing and perhaps eventually eliminating the expensive burden of continuously replenishing or nourishing – the misleading parlance popularly used to describe the activity of shoring up shorelines with new sand – their beachfronts with, well, ordinary boring brown sand.
The fact is that ever since the mood-ring era, beachfronts along every coastline on earth – including those of rivers and lakes, have been degraded by sand-dredging projects to collect six times the tonnage needed to create a single ton of concrete required for massive construction and reclamation projects. Unlike desert sand – which is not used in construction projects (but which is used in fracking processes) – the rough characteristics unique to sea sand allow its grains to knit together, making it the most important element in sound construction.
Problems that may be associated with near-shore dredging include an increase in drownings as bodies are sucked into massively powerful undertows that drag them into much deeper waters than used to be there. Rescue reports show an increase in spine and neck injuries. Large aquatic mammals swim up on shore and ‘beach themselves,’ yet the case may be that the waters were so deep near shore that they couldn’t judge that they were close to shore.
But few outside the construction industry would make these connections, and those who are in the know about them want this information suppressed. Trade in marine sand is a dirty secret. Only coastline inhabitants or those whose livelihoods are earned in work related to or dependent on the sea may suspect dredging as a reason for their area shoreline degradation and concomitant collapse of property values and income. In-landers with little personal connection to ocean (as well as lake and river) shorelines are less aware of and less likely to even be suspicious about this activity.
If media gave greater attention to sand mining, the proverbial masses would awaken to the fact that for the past forty years and especially the last fifteen, a global boom in construction and reclamation projects has led to a mad feeding frenzy of economic sand sharks scouting shorelines to abuse, when they would be far wiser to protect them in order to sustain their own lives.
Instead, media continually portray the problem of washed away shorelines as related to rising water levels connected with global warming, but the facts on the ground and in the water show harder and softer realities.
And media can’t be blamed for their appalling deficient coverage of this topic because the dirtiest part of this secret is the very fact that information about it is kept buried in the sand. No international monitoring agency exists to track it or to provide clear reliable information about how much sand aggregate is being extracted, from where, to where it’s being taken, and for what purposes.
The lack of transparency associated with marine sand mining suggests the activity is part of a vast global smuggling undersea-world operating without international laws or controls.
All figures associated with the sand trade are merely estimates, as countries are under no international obligation to reveal their real use of concrete. However, experts in construction are able to make fair calculations by observing construction configurations and processes.
The physically and environmentally exhausting Möbius trip of dredging-construction-dredging so that buildings can be constructed that allow people to stay in those buildings that allow them access to beaches from which sand is taken to make the buildings they’re staying in is absurd on its filthy face.
Heightening this absurdity is the fact that earth’s most valuable natural resource, fresh water, is required to rinse society’s second most valuable natural resource, which is marine sand. Failure to eliminate salt contamination from sand meant for construction results in cement corrosion that leads to cracks in buildings and their eventual collapse.
Top-tier consumers – reminder: real people – may be weary, but they are waking up. Among much information they find conspicuous is that the loss, they are commonly told, of 80 percent of shorelines around continents and islands cannot possibly be due to melting of Arctic ice caps caused primarily by their careless carbon footprints. Repeated media chastisements that failures by ordinary people to switch off the AC before stepping out, stop running the dishwasher when it’s not full, and driving rather than cycling to work are causing them to say Hey, wait a minute! Temperatures aren’t that much different than they were donkey’s years ago. Water shouldn’t be rising this much of the sand away. Something is very fishy here!