Sand theft

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Sign in County Mayo, Ireland, forbidding the removal of sand and stones from a beach.

Sand theft or unauthorised or illegal sand mining leads to a widely unknown global example of natural and non-renewable resource depletion problem comparable in extent to global water scarcity.[1][2][3] Beach theft is illegal removal of large quantities of sand from a beach leading to full or partial disappearance of the beach. In India illegal sand mining is the country's largest organized criminal activity.[4]

Sand and beach theft by country[edit]

Sand theft is a worldwide phenomenon.[5][6][7][8] Beach theft, the large-scale removal of sand to the point that entire stretches of a beach disappear, is considerably less common.

Two instances of beach thefts have been widely reported in the media: one in Hungary in 2007 and another in Jamaica in 2008. The beach that was stolen in Hungary was an artificially created one on the banks of a river. The other one is a genuine example of a beach theft.


Too much sand was taken from the Yangtze River to help build Shanghai in the 1980s and 1990s, prompting the Chinese government to ban sand mining there in 2000. However, smugglers continue to take sand. They evaded capture by hacking and cloning the automatic tracking systems of other ships, leading to multiple collisions.[9]


The pink sands of Elafonisi, created by tidal and wave-induced deposits of pigmented microorganisms living in a symbiotic relationship with native seaweed, were a frequent subject of souvenir-taking by tourists until the Greek government declared the area a nature reserve and prohibited the sands' removal; even today, color saturation levels remain at only around 10% of those in the early twentieth century.


An incident of beach theft occurred in Hungary in 2007.[10] In this case, multiple tonnes of sand were stolen by thieves from an artificial beach created by a resort in Mindszent alongside the banks of the Tisza river. Approximately 6,000 cubic meters of sand were shipped in and lounge chairs, playground rides, and beach huts were added. Owing to the harsh Hungarian winters, the owners of the resort covered the rides with tarpaulin and closed the resort for the season in September 2007. When one of the owners drove by, they noticed that the beach was gone.


Sand thieves are referred to in India as the "sand mafia". They have been alleged to have murdered hundreds of people, including journalists, environmental activists, police officers, government officials, and others.[11] In South India, the problem appears so pronounced that a particular Tamil term – manarkollai – has been coined.


Sand is used in unregulated home-building across the island.[12]

Involvement by hotels was suspected in a July 2008 heist, where 500 truckloads of sand were stolen from a 400-metre stretch of beach at Coral Springs in the northern parish of Trelawny.[13] The beach was to be part of a resort complex, but development halted after the theft. Sand was reported to have turned up on other beaches, but no charges were ever made.


A Mexican environmental activist was murdered when he tried to stop sand mining in his village.[11]


Singapore is the world's largest importer of sand,[14][15] using it for land reclamation that has increased the country's size by 20% since independence.[14] Much of the imported sand has reportedly been mined illegally in Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia.[14][15]

South Africa[edit]

A murder in South Africa was associated with rival gangs of sand miners fighting over sand.[11]


Although sand theft does not seem to be a serious problem at first, it is nonetheless a serious problem as the removal of sand facilitates soil salinisation. For example, in Cape Verde, the theft of sand has caused the soil to salinify to such a degree, that a large number of orchards were permanently destroyed in the process.[citation needed]

Taking sand from river systems and then transporting it can use a great deal of energy. It may also lead to ecological devastation, as it may involve completely dredging the river and its contents. If a river is depleted of sediment, it may end up flowing much faster, with serious downstream effects, including greater flooding.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vince Beiser (26 March 2015). "The Deadly Global War for Sand". wired.
  2. ^ Christian Hellwig (19 April 2015). "Illegal Sand Mining is a Thing and it's a Problem". Global Risk Insights. Archived from the original on 5 January 2019. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  3. ^ Jakob Villioth (5 August 2014). "Building an economy on quicksand". ejolt. Sand has by now become the most widely consumed natural resource on the planet after fresh water
  4. ^ "Sand Is in Such High Demand, People Are Stealing Tons of It". HowStuffWorks. 6 March 2017. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  5. ^ "Hanson Denies Stealing Sand", Los Angeles Times dated 28 October 2003 (Retrieved 23 October 2008)
  6. ^ "Stealing sand from Sahara", Western Sahara Resource Watch [1] (Retrieved 23 October 2000)
  7. ^ Shifting Sands report Archived 4 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Sand thieves strike again", Voice of Malaysian Archived 29 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine dated 9 August 2008, retrieved 23 October 2008)
  9. ^ Harris, Mark. "Ghost ships, crop circles, and soft gold: A GPS mystery in Shanghai". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 14 December 2019. These ships have been cloning the AIS identities of other ships in order to slip in and out of the harbor unmolested by authorities.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ "Eltűnt homokos strandot keresnek a Tisza-parton" [2] (Retrieved 12 November 2013)
  11. ^ a b c d Kelsey-Sugg, Anna; Priadko, Taryn (11 January 2020). "'It's astonishing when you start looking into it': The rise of the sand mafia". ABC News. Retrieved 28 April 2022.
  12. ^ Carroll, Rory (21 October 2008). "Jamaican police left stranded after thieves steal a beach". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 March 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ Davis, Nick (18 October 2008). "Jamaica puzzled by theft of beach". BBC News. Retrieved 1 March 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ a b c "Is the world running out of sand? The truth behind stolen beaches and dredged islands". July 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Singapore under scrutiny for alleged involvement in illegal sand import for land reclamation". 3 July 2018. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019. Retrieved 11 December 2019.