Every summer, holidaymakers flock to the sea to relax and recharge at the beach. They plaster themselves in sunscreen or oil which washes off into the sea, and bury cigarette butts in the sand. Ice-cream cones, empty cake packets, plastic bottles are left behind, littering the beach until the tide comes in. While a father takes a dip, the mother lies on the warm sand to top up her suntan whilst their child happily builds a sand castle with his small bucket of water and plastic spade.
For now, building sand castles is still possible yet every year the coast becomes further eroded as a result of the great indifference of a population caught up in the domino effect of consumption and urban overdevelopment. Multinationals and mafia organizations are relentlessly plundering the depths of our oceans to supply the insatiable Gulf monarchies with the sand required to manufacture reinforced concrete so that soulless skyscrapers and islets can be built for phantom billionaires. Such extravagant folly! City-states are rapidly expanding at the expense of the oceans.
Fifteen billion tons of sand are taken each year to provide for unbridled industrialization, especially in China. The demographic explosion in emerging countries such as India, Nigeria, Morocco and Brazil aggravates this devastation. To make matters worse, the erection of giant dams on our rivers to feed our ever-growing consumption of electricity prevents the rock sediments from pouring into the sea to naturally restore the sand along our coastlines.
Without any controls in place, cargo ships vacuum up vast amounts of the sea floor, destroying fauna and flora necessary for the maritime food chain. 90% of Florida’s beaches are gradually disappearing, some twenty Indonesian islands have been wiped off the map; the erosion of our overcrowded coasts is progressing at a frightening pace. And, ironically, to deal with this problem we construct dykes of reinforced concrete, so extracting even more marine sand, claiming to re-establish beaches... Juicy contracts for construction companies without a doubt!
Let us take as one example the situation in the Maldives: strictly conservative religion on this archipelago slows down the emancipation of women and thus, with little birth control, they must build high on their overcrowded islands. The local workforce is employed to snorkel and fill sacks of sand, reducing their life expectancy and depriving them and their families of adequate protection against rising sea levels.
It’s a vicious circle. In the name of development, we are building ever more unnecessary airports and highways, so we plunder even more sand from our coasts. Breton fishermen (sadly a minority) demonstrated against large corporations such as Roullier, Bouygues, Vinci, Lafarge, Italcimenti and Cemex in the knowledge that good catches are to be found close to sandbanks. But perhaps it will be too late when we finally wake up to this ravage of nature.
Our relentless development threatens the very survival of the human species and policies that encourage a high birth rate such as those put forward by leaders such as Erdogan can only exacerbate the problem. With no regulations in place, the very survival of the planet is under threat.
This paper was written after the rebroacasting of Denis Delestrac’s documentary on Arte last month.