|Grains of Sand|
|Written by Kathleen Wood|
|Thursday, 20 January 2011 09:46|
“In every outthrust headland, in curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the Earth.”
As algae absorb carbon dioxide from the water for photosynthesis, dissolved calcium combines with carbonic acid to form calcium carbonate, the primary constituent of TCI’s limestone sands.
In the tropical and subtropical waters surrounding the TCI, calcium carbonate is the mineral upon which the biological structure of marine ecology builds. From it, tiny corals form the skeletal structures that over time frame the great fringing reefs.
Lobsters and crabs manufacture their protective exoskeletons. Conch, clams and other mollusks create their intricate shells, and algae craft rigid formations. Over time, organisms die and their delicately crafted structures crumble like a fine misty rain onto the ocean floor.
The TCI are a country made of sand, perched above the tides on a limestone oceanic platform that formed underwater over hundreds of millions of years from the living sea. Over the archipelago’s history, the tides have deposited and washed away the grains of sand that form these fragile lands, raising them up above the flood waters and washing them away again beneath the tides.
Dry land is by no means the status quo on a geological time scale, and white sand is at once abundant and precious, splashed out across 366 square miles of incomparable TCI shorelines, yet vulnerable to the very forces of nature that created it.
Nature doesn’t follow linear time but works in cycles. What she creates, she also takes back and recycles. Throughout most of history on a global scale, the dissolution and precipitation of calcium carbonate in the oceans is in balance.
When carbon dioxide concentrations in the ocean are relatively low due to absorption by plants, calcium carbonate is created, but when carbon dioxide concentrations in the ocean are high, calcium carbonate dissolves back into the water. With the ubiquitous burning of fossil fuels, human beings are not only raising green house gasses in the atmosphere but also in the ocean, creating a marine environment that favors the dissolution, rather than the creation, of carbonate sands.
Climate change is causing sand shortages in other ways too. What is deposited with the tides is also easily swept away. While seemingly everywhere, quality limestone sands are in high demand throughout the Caribbean and eastern United States.
With global climate change and subsequent increases in frequency and intensity of tropical hurricanes, many beaches have been scoured clean of sand, ravaging tourism markets throughout the region. Those without adequate supplies of sand to replenish their own beaches are forced to purchase the precious commodity elsewhere.
TCI are currently in a fortunate position. A study conducted in 2007 identified several sources of beach, construction and fill grades of sand deposits that should adequately provide for the TCI into the foreseeable future, should the need arise. The problem is that some individuals and members of the government have dollar signs obstructing their vision.
International demand means that TCI would have no trouble selling their precious sand resources to neighboring countries for a market price of $1 to $3 per cubic yard. Those who extract and transport the sand can then expect to get as much as $40 per cubic yard for high grade beach sand.
The TCI government is now seeking tenders to mine 321,000 cubic yards of sand — more than one third of all deposits identified in the study — from six different areas off Grand Turk, North Caicos and Middle Caicos. The reason is to make money for the cash-strapped government.
While much profit is to be made, it will largely be realized by the middlemen extracting and transporting the sand. Even if all the high quality beach sand identified within TCI is sold abroad, it would translate only to a few million dollars for the TCI treasury.
Furthermore, when disaster strikes, and history shows it will, we will have no reserves to replenish our own beaches.
The Cayman Islands realized just such a scenario in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan devastated their shores. Having sold much of their high quality sand on the international market, Cayman was forced to import sand from other countries at a premium price. What they sold for a few million dollars, they had to pay tens of millions of dollars to recover.
Simple grains of sand are the foundation of the TCI. Through tourism, they provide the life’s blood of the economy. It is the sand that holds this land above water. Without these simple but precious grains, the TCI cannot exist.
Nevertheless, throughout recent history, this very foundation of our existence has been sold, polluted and exploited in every fashion imaginable for the sake of the profit of paper dollars, but paper cannot sustain this land.
The time has come to stop the exploitation, for without the sand upon which this land and very essence of the TCI are built, we will surely be sunk.
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The fp is publishing a series of articles on the Turks and Caicos Islands Protected Area System to increase public awareness and respect for the beauty and value of this "beautiful by nature" country.
The authors, marine ecologist Marsha Pardee and terrestrial ecologist Kathleen Wood, are long-time TCI residents and respected scientists in their fields.
Below are links to their articles, plus related news articles, documents and laws.
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Links to environmental documents and laws