UNEP Marine Sand Watch on the Effect of Massive Extraction

A new global data platform called “Marine Sand Watch”, developed by GRID-Geneva, a center within the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), has revealed that the marine dredging industry is extracting a staggering 6 billion tons of sand annually from the world’s oceans.

This is equivalent to over 1 million dump trucks of sand each day, and it is causing significant harm to marine biodiversity and coastal communities. Shallow sea mining for sand and gravel is essential for construction but poses risks to coastal communities, marine biodiversity, and ecosystems. Some countries have banned marine sand exports, while others lack regulation and monitoring. UNEP calls for improved monitoring and international standards for sand extraction, enhancing resource management.

Marine Sand Watch uses Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to monitor dredging activities, including sand, clay, silt, gravel, and rock extraction, in various marine regions. However, it currently cannot detect small-scale mining along shallow coastlines. The platform’s data estimates that between 4 and 8 billion tons of sand and sediment are dredged annually, with the trend showing an increase over the years. This threatens the natural replenishment rate needed by rivers to maintain coastal and marine ecosystems.

The initiative is supported by the University of Geneva and follows a UN resolution to strengthen knowledge regarding sand, and to support global policies and action regarding its environmentally sound extraction and use.