Sand mafias and illegal sand extraction are destroying beaches and threatening Morocco’s coastline, reminds the UN Environment Program.
Rabat – In its report “Sand and Sustainability,” the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has put the spotlight on Morocco’s illegal sand extraction activities.
The report uses Morocco as a special case study on sand mafias, drawing attention to the problem of illegal sand mining on Moroccan beaches.
Sand is crucial to development. It is used to make concrete, asphalt and glass, and therefore plays a key role in industrial and construction work.
According to the UN report, crushed rock, sand, and gravel account for the largest volume of extracted solid material around the world.
The report reminds that global demand for sand is rising, with construction industries around the world rushing to meet the demands of a growing population and rapid infrastructure development projects. But sand is a finite resource and its uncontrolled extraction can have serious environmental and social impacts.
The global sand industry is “fragmented and informal,” the UN report noted. And while some sand extraction is carried out by regulated multinational companies, it is also carried out illegally. In cases of illegal extraction, the impact is much harder to control.
Illegal sand extraction in Morocco
In Morocco, half of the sand extraction, around 10 million cubic meters a year, comes from illegal coastal sand extraction, according to the UNEP.
The sand is often removed from beaches to build hotels, roads and other tourism-related infrastructure. Ironically, the extraction of sand has in turn caused the destruction of the main tourist attraction itself: the beach.
The report particularly draws attention to the coastline between Safi and Essaouira, halfway up the Moroccan coastline, noting sand smugglers have transformed the beach into a rocky landscape.
Asilah, a coastal town in Morocco’s far north, has also suffered from illegal sand extraction. A 2016 investigation by Middle East Eye revealed the scale of illegal sand mining in the town. During the tourism construction boom in 2012-2014, to lower costs, builders began extracting sand from the beach to mix their own cement.
Moroccan men from the city who would come down to the beach with shovels and flour sacks, filling them up and taking them to nearby construction sites. “In areas where the digging was most extreme, the beach was left resembling the surface of the moon.”
UNEP is now echoing similar concerns, noting that Assilah has suffered severe erosion of its beaches due to regulatory issues and tourism pressures.
In March this year, dredging at Imsouane beach north of Agadir sparked debate after Moroccan NGO Surfrider Foundation Maroc posted a video online showing bulldozers digging up sand from the beach.
Named one of the world’s most beautiful beaches in 2017 by Forbes, Imsouane is a popular spot for surfers.
The National Port Agency (ANP), the Moroccan body responsible for the sand extraction, responded that the dredging was legal and regularly undertaken to maintain the port.