What, you might reasonably ask, is this image? This is, after all, a blog about topics arenaceous, and folded paper ornaments would, while somewhat seasonal, hardly seem relevant. But a couple of explanations: first, ever since I was a kid I have loved those two-dimensional paper ornaments that magically unfold into three-dimensional glory (I still do). Second, this is a blog about all things sandy, but, with the forthcoming arrival of the new book, it is also becoming a blog about all things arid. And third, it will continue to be a blog about things I personally find compelling, stimulating, fascinating and provocative.
Having just embarked on a new year, I’m sure that I’m not alone in hoping, despite all the depressing evidence to the contrary, that 2015 will bring improvements, innovations and creative solutions that make genuine and sustainable changes to our world. Ideas, that’s what we need, creative ideas tested and put into practice. And in a world where we now see record numbers of refugees – tens of millions, plus the “internally displaced” - it’s an idea derived from folding paper, “honeycomb” ornaments and origami, that I would like to highlight here. For this is what the image at the head of this post is about:
Jordanian-Canadian architect and designer Abeer Seikaly won the Lexus (yes, the guys who make the cars) Design Award in 2013 for her collapsible woven refugee shelters. She is now living in Amman, Jordan, well-placed to witness displaced people and the traditional variations between nomadic and sheltered lives. As she writes in her design brief (please look at that link):
Human life throughout history has developed in alternating waves of migration and settlement. The movement of people across the earth led to the discovery of new territories as well as the creation of new communities among strangers forming towns, cities, and nations. Navigating this duality between exploration and settlement, movement and stillness is a fundamental essence of what it means to be human.
In the aftermath of global wars and natural disasters, the world has witnessed the displacement of millions of people across continents. Refugees seeking shelter from disasters carry from their homes what they can and resettle in unknown lands, often starting with nothing but a tent to call home. “Weaving a home” reexamines the traditional architectural concept of tent shelters by creating a technical, structural fabric that expands to enclose and contracts for mobility while providing the comforts of contemporary life (heat, running water, electricity, storage, etc.)
These are not only portable shelters that are elegant and distinctive, but they are designed to provide electricity and water. As described in this report:
The outer solar-powered skin absorbs solar energy that is then converted into usable electricity, while the inner skin provides pockets for storage – particularly at the lower half of the shelters. And a water storage tank on the top of the tent allows people to take quick showers. Water rises to the storage tank via a thermosiphoning system and a drainage system ensures that the tent is not flooded… Well ventilated and lit, the shelter opens up in the summer and huddles down during cold winters. But most importantly, it allows refugees to have some semblance of security, some semblance of home.
We are all familiar with the endless (and expensive) foolishness of ‘beach nourishment’, of the idiocy of Dubai’s artificial sand islands and the general ravages of ‘sand wars’ around the world, but now it seems that sand-shifting is taking on an ominous geopolitical role.
“There was this huge Chinese ship sucking sand and rocks from one end of the ocean and blasting it to the other side using a tube.” This is the description by Pasi Abdulpata, a fisherman from the Philippines, of what he saw happening in the South China Sea towards the end of last year. He was quoted in an article in Bloombergearlier this year (which I missed), and the issue has now been picked up by the BBC. Abdulpata was fishing around the Spratly Islands, a sprawling archipelago of only-just-islands and only-just-submerged reefs.
The Spratly Islands would not figure on the global geopolitical agenda if it were not for the fact that they occupy a significant area of the South China Sea, all of which is claimed by China, and some of which may harbour reserves of oil and gas. There are, however, a number of countries – five to be exact – who have different ideas about who owns what and where the international boundaries should lie. This map, from another Bloomberg article, summarizes the ‘anxious archipelago’:
The sand-sucking was going on at the Johnson South Reef, occupied by China but claimed by Vietnam, and the site of the 1988 ‘Johnson South Reef skirmish’ in which more than 70 Vietnamese died, two Vietnamese boats were sunk and the Chinese took over. They built some kind of structure on the reef, purportedly for erosion protection, and it has been the strategic destination of fishing and patrol vessels ever since. But the sand-sucking dredging and pumping activities are something new, and have been dramatically documented by satellite imagery and the Philippines Government, as described in Jane’s earlier this year:
China is attempting to bolster its presence in the South China Sea by creating an artificial island on a reef in the disputed Spratly Islands.
Satellite imagery provided by Airbus Defence and Space corroborates images released by the Philippine Ministry of Foreign Affairs that shows major land reclamation on Johnson South Reef, which is claimed by Manila as Mabini Reef, as Chigua Reef by China and Gac Ma by Vietnam.
Johnson South Reef was at the centre of a 1998 confrontation between China and Vietnam that left more than 70 Vietnamese personnel dead. After taking control of the reef China built a concrete platform and installed radio and communications equipment.
The images released by the Philippine Ministry of Foreign Affairs show that since February 2013 there has been extensive dredging of the atoll to create an islet around the platform. Other concrete structures have also been constructed.
The ministry said the construction appeared to be designed to support an airstrip and said it was "destabilising and in violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC) and international law. Mabini Reef is part of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) which is part of Philippine territory".
The article contains this series of images which show the large-scale ‘nourishment’ of the islands:
As The New York Times has reported, in May US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel scolded China for “land reclamation activities at multiple locations” in the South China Sea. Is this the beginning of a further – and dangerous – episode of ‘sand wars’?
[Image at the head of this post: Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, via Associated Press, as included in The New York Times article. The BBC also has an 'immersive story' which is well-worth a look.]
Serendipity is a wonderful thing, and I was surprised and delighted to find, completely by accident while looking for something else, this document, published back in March:
In the acknowledgment section, the following appears:
The idea for this publication came from the film documentary “Le Sable: enquête sur une disparition,” directed by Denis Delestrac and broadcast on Arte channel on May 28, 2013.
Wow! Perhaps, just perhaps, the documentary is raising awareness, might just, somehow, somewhere, be making a bit of a difference…
The complete document is available on the UNEP website. It’s an excellent resource, with a number of very useful references - well-worth a read. I will simply reproduce the conclusions here:
Sand and gravel represent the highest volume of raw material used on earth after water. Their use greatly exceeds natural renewal rates. Moreover, the amount being mined is increasing exponentially, mainly as a result of rapid economic growth in Asia (UNEP and CSIRO, 2011). Negative effects on the environment are unequivocal and are occurring around the world. The problem is now so serious that the existence of river ecosystems is threatened in a number of locations. Damage is more severe in small river catchments. The same applies to threats to benthic ecosystems from marine extraction. A large discrepancy exists between the magnitude of the problem and public awareness of it. The absence of global monitoring of aggregates extraction undoubtedly contributes to the gap in knowledge, which translates into a lack of action. As this issue is truly a major emerging one, there is a need for in-depth research. The implementation of a monitoring mechanism regarding global aggregate extractions and trade would shed light on the magnitude of this issue and bridge the current data and knowledge gap. This would also raise this issue on the political agenda and perhaps lead to an international framework to improve extraction governance, as the current level of political concern clearly does not match the urgency of the situation.
Illustrations thanks to Sumaira Abdulali and the Awaaz Foundation:
Three years ago we embarked in Bali and headed eastward, across the Wallace Line, and island-hopped for a while around the archipelago of Nusa Tenggara. We sailed past the great volcanic edifice of Tambora, originator of the greatest eruption of modern times and the cause of ‘the year without a summer.’ All was peaceful, although the lines of raised beaches along the shore spoke of volcanic and seismic upheaval. The day before we arrived at Komodo – where there indeed be dragons, not to mention spectacular sands – we sailed past the eastern shores of Sumbawa and I photographed the volcano island of Sangeang Api, benignly dormant in the evening light (above left). Today, the tropical languor has been shattered by several major eruptions of Sangean Api over the last 24 hours (above right).
It’s estimated that the ash cloud has reached more than 15 kilometres into the atmosphere, rapidly spreading southward across northern Australia and currently headed for Alice Springs. This dramatic aerial image by Sofyan Efendi (Barcroft Media/Splash News and news.com.au) demonstrates the scale of the eruption.
Not surprisingly, aviation between much of Australia and Indonesia and Singapore is in chaos. Flights have been cancelled and the airport at Darwin closed.
As a geologist, I couldn’t help wishing for the volcanically energetic islands of Nusa Tenggara to demonstrate their prowess as we cruised by, but they remained bashful. What I hadn’t thought of – and I should have, after being stranded in the US by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name a couple of years earlier – was that, as I booked my travel to Alice Springs via Singapore and Darwin for my great outback adventure in 2012, the itinerary came with some risk. Had Sangeang Api decided to put on this kind of show at the beginning of February that year, I would likely never have made it on the expedition – and much of my new book (The Desert: Lands of Lost Borders) would have been very different. Life is uncertain, and I’m grateful to Sangeang Api for waiting a while.
In the lively discussion period following the US premier screening of Sand Wars in Washington DC a couple of weeks ago, and following the showing at the Zurich environmental film festival, there was one outstanding theme – surprise. Which is exactly what I had always hoped for with the book and then with Denis Delestrac's documentary. The fact that sand plays a heroic role in our daily lives and the workings of our planet sets the scene for the – often surprising – fact that sand is not just sand. Anyone who has occasionally looked at this blog and, in particular, the displays of arenaceous diversity in the Sunday Sand posts will appreciate that the stuff comes in a dazzling variety of shapes, sizes and compositions – no two sands are the same. And this means that if you want to make something with sand, whether it’s glass, filters, concrete, golf course bunkers, foundry castings, silicon electronic components, or a host of other things, any old sand just will not do: it has to be the right kind of sand. Concrete, of course, is the most obvious example, given how much of the stuff each of us uses (or has used on our behalf). The fact that the rapid development of Dubai has only been possible through sand imports when the desert dunes are right there, is a surprise. But the fact is that desert sand just will not do for making good concrete.
The range of needs for special sands presents two challenges: how to get the right kind of sand from the place where it naturally occurs to where it is needed and how to ensure that the resources of that right kind of sand are not only sustainable but exploitable without destroying the environment, ecosystems and livelihoods. Meeting these challenges is manifestly failing in many parts of the world, as the documentary describes, and, while it’s easy to see this as a problem of the so-called developing world and that we in the west are far too thoughtful in our approach to environmental and resource management for such issues to arise at home, this is, sadly, not always the case. A notable example is the supply of the specialty sand required – in vast quantities – for the fracking (or fraccing) of oil and gas wells. This is an emotional topic on both sides of the Atlantic and the subject of heated media and social ‘debate’. This is not what my primary focus here is, but I should probably declare my general position: fracking is proven and reliable technology that presents problems only when regulations are loose, regulatory enforcement is deficient, and ‘cowboy’ operators are allowed to flagrantly disregard good engineering practice. The fact that these issues can be, unfortunately, quite often the reality is a justifiable cause for concern – it’s not rocket science to fix but the media frenzy is arguably misdirected. Anyone who would like to discuss this further is more than welcome and I would recommend having a look at the objective report put out last year by The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering. My point here, however, is specifically about sand.
The technology of hydraulic fracturing involves accessing the oil or gas trapped in essentially impermeable rocks from which they cannot naturally escape. Permeability is induced artificially by water (and yes, also often unknown chemical additives) under extremely high pressures, creating a network of cracks, fractures, through which the hydrocarbons can be persuaded to flow. But creating those fractures is only the start: natural underground pressure would rapidly close them up again – something has to be put into them that keeps them open, and that something is sand. But not just any old sand. It has to be tough and uncrushable pure quartz sand, the grains have to be all of the right size and they have to be smooth and rounded so that they don’t clog up up the fluids or the fractures as they are forced into them. Here is a view of a typical construction sand on the left next to a good frac sand:
The challenge lies in the fact that huge quantities of sand are required for every fracturing operation – often thousands of tons per well. The whole process is shown clearly in this graphic from the Wisconsin Academy:
This demand, along with the enormous volume of water required, not does not frequently feature as an issue in the ‘debate’. With the boom in fracking in the US, demand for the right kind of sand has more than trebled in the last four years – the US Geological Survey estimates that 30 million tons of frac sand was produced in the US in 2013. Where from? Mostly Wisconsin and neighbouring Midwestern states. The seas that covered much of the US more than 450 million years ago deposited, and time and chemistry purified, sands ideal for hydraulic fracturing purposes. Although today these are sandstones, the cement holding the grains together is weak and they can be easily mined and disintegrated back into sand. The scale of the sand-mining industry in Wisconsin and neighbouring parts of Minnesota has escalated dramatically in the last few years to the point where it has clearly become an environmental, social and health issue (the last particularly as a result of the generation of silica dust). At the same time, the industry is a welcome source of employment and state income, but fluctuations in the level of industry fracking activity hardly make for a stable economic benefit. The image at the head of this post is from a recent article by Minnesota Public Radio and shows two views of downtown Winona today and a year ago when the stockpile of sand that became known as ‘Mt. Frac’ filled a vacant lot. It has disappeared not because of the concerns rightly expressed by the local citizens but because of the fall in demand.
As usual, these are issues that are not clearly one that is black-and-white, but they could benefit from a little more awareness and careful discussion – and not only in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The US Premiere of the documentary Sand Wars, to which your humble correspondent contributed, will be shown as part of the Environmental Film Festival in Washington on the 20th March. The Director, Denis Delestrac, and I will be there, and I understand that there is a discussion program in which we will participate.
So, if you're in the DC area and are at a loss for entertainment that evening, come along! Join the 1.9 million people in France and Germany who watched it when it was aired on ARTE TV last year! See the website for details (as above).
“I believe that we have to force the sea back and keep it out, not retreat from it, as we have done for years.”
No, these are not the words of King Cnut (who, anyway, was simply demonstrating the impossibility of the task), but of one our illustrious Members of Parliament in a recent session in the House of Commons addressing the current flooding problems. The Honourable Gentleman represents the folk of central Devon, part of the southwest of England battered by continuing storms and floods: his ambition is politically admirable, if ludicrous – perhaps he hasn’t actually been to the beach recently or had the time to listen to people who actually know what they are talking about.
The storms of the last two months across the UK have been (and continue to be) extraordinary, but not unprecedented. Large stretches of the British coastline have been re-organized, dunes and beaches have disappeared, the great pebble bank of Chesil Beach along the Jurassic Coast has been re-sculpted, rocky coastal icons have crumbled, and, in some areas, the shoreline is now tens of meters landward of where it was a couple of months ago. There have been a few fascinating revelations by the shifting sands – the oldest human footprints outside of Africa (subsequently washed away), fossil forests and numerous ancient shipwrecks, but the overall impacts of the storms have been devastating. And nowhere more so than the so-called Somerset Levels whose current condition is illustrated at the head of this post. The Levels comprise a large area of central and northern Somerset, clay and peat marshes that have been called a ‘West country bayou’ and lie on average below the high spring tide level of the Bristol Channel. Theirs is a man-made landscape, a testament to attempts to manage and prevent routine flooding that have been going on since Roman times. The Wikipedia entry on the Levels contains the following interesting suggestion: “one explanation for the county of Somerset's name is that, in prehistory, because of winter flooding people restricted their use of the Levels to the summer, leading to a derivation from Sumorsaete, meaning land of the summer people." The history of the position of the coastline over the last seven thousand years is dramatically charted on a series of maps on the ‘Somerset Coastal Change’ website. Mediaeval monks constructed hundreds of kilometres of drainage channels, and engineers from the Netherlands would later assist with further projects to ‘reclaim’ agricultural land. But the topography didn’t change and nor did the weather. The Levels have always experienced flooding from rain and storm surges – sea ‘defences’ are often overwhelmed and seawater meets freshwater from flooding rivers unable to cope with the flow from the surrounding hills. In the winter of 1872, more than 250 square kilometres were under water for six months and in 1919 a similar area was flooded with seawater to the point where the land was rendered unusable for years.
In recent times, the loss of peat, the increasing areas of concrete, tarmac and roofs, the failure to continue traditional dredging of drainage channels and the planned destruction of the water-retaining upland ecology have all only increased the risk, as is being witnessed today. Close to a hundred square kilometres are under water, one village has had to be evacuated and abandoned, and thousands of head of livestock removed – the problem is exacerbated by the fact that it is not only homes and infrastructure that are under threat, but this is also land that plays a key role in the country’s agricultural economy. Time for the politicians to sit up and take notice.
The politicians talk heatedly and melodramatically in London and occasionally make forays for photo opportunities to the flooded areas. It didn’t help that our Environment Secretary showed up in a suit and city shoes and talked to virtually nobody; the head of the Environment Agency (yes, oddly, someone entirely different from the Environment Secretary) at least arrived sporting a new pair of wellington boots (‘wellies’ as we affectionately refer to them), but they hardly got wet, never mind muddy. It didn’t help that our eccentric Prince toured the Levels, endearing himself to at least some residents, yet his Crown Estates do virtually nothing of practical value. It doesn’t help that the politicians are blaming each other and each other’s agencies, the previous government's actions of twenty years ago, and the deficiencies in the advice that they receive. There is a sudden political urgency that is profoundly undermined by the fact that those same politicians, in their enthusiasm for ‘austerity’, have systematically eviscerated the funding for addressing these issues and cut the staff responsible. Our illustrious Prime Minister attempts to channel Churchill and talks firmly of ‘lessons learned’ – like so many of his colleagues, he must think we are all idiots.
And the waters of serious and immediate discussion are clouded by political and scientific angst over the extent to which climate change is to blame - arguably an entirely separate discussion.
The problem is, as most of us (including the residents of the Levels) appreciate, that there is no easy solution. Yes, dredging may help, but river hydraulics are complex and larger, dredged, channels may not necessarily move more water, just the same amount but more slowly. Hastily piling boulders on the beach (the image below is from a day or so ago) is hardly a sustainable solution to coastal erosion, nor one that takes any notice of the nature of the beach.
Last week, a provocative article appeared in The Guardian newspaper here titled Should coastal Britain surrender to the tides? The headline read:
Ferocious recent storms have destroyed natural landmarks and placed communities at risk. But simply patching up our defences won't work. Our coast is changing, and we must change with it.
The entire article is worth reading and raises questions that no politician has the courage to address:
The government's approach is clear: patch up and protect, or "hold the line" in the jargon of the shoreline management plans in place around our island. But any GCSE [high school] geographer can explain that hard defences will never stop erosion…
"Are we just going to be applying more sticking plasters [bandaids] on things that will pull off again and again?" asks Phil Dyke, the National Trust's coast and marine adviser. "Or are we going to take a proper look at vulnerable places and think about rollback, adaptation and realignment, and allow the undeveloped parts of the coast to function more naturally?"
The concluding sentence reads “Like Icarus with the sun, so it is with us and the sea: we cannot resist living too close, craving its fun and solace from cradle to grave, despite its destructive majesty.”
This is a relationship that is by no means unique to the British Isles but it is one that needs a fundamental, and potentially painful, re-examination. However, if this is in the hands of the politicians and the lawyers, the grounds for optimism are subject to relentless erosion.
(There are, nevertheless, stirrings of awareness and debate - on the BBC website, this piece, titled "Row between government and Environment Agency gathers pace - how should flood money be spent?" has appeared while I was writing this post.)
[Porthleven Harbour storm photo Bernie Pettersen/SWNS]
Avulsion. For a geologist, it’s the process whereby a river escapes its channel, but for a lawyer it’s a doctrine – and a highly contentious one.
On many occasions on this blog I have bemoaned the absurdities of coastal development – and re-development – in the face of the natural dynamics of the beach, the impact of storms and hurricanes on re-arranging the coastline, and the implications of rising sea levels. The ‘nourish or retreat?’ arguments continue, exacerbated by the devastation and aftermath of ‘Super-storm’ Sandy. There are widespread conflicts between developers and property-owners on the one side, and coastal scientists on the other – state and local governments in the US may take one side or the other, but more often than not ignore the science. The issues are clear also here in the UK, particularly in the wake of the recent appalling storms, but while wholesale removal of beaches revealed some interesting archaeology and geology, damage to coastal property and infrastructure was relatively limited. The arguments over nourishing, defending or retreating are contentious everywhere, but nowhere are more fraught and vehement – never mind expensive – than in the US.
I am not naive: these issues are complex, to say the least, and much is at stake in terms of the livelihood and finances of individuals, communities and businesses. It is clear too that laws dealing with these matters are also complex, but I had no idea what a hopeless quagmire has resulted from the lawyers going to the beach. The arena where the law meets geology and appropriates science for its own purposes would be amusing if it were not so absurd. I’m not quite sure how I got into this, but suffice it to say that I have spent several hours attempting to decipher the legalese of coastal property law. I have emerged only somewhat the wiser, but at least with a sense of the quagmire.
At the heart of the matter are boundaries, and along an ever-shape-shifting shoreline, these present problems. If the shoreline moves, do the property boundaries? Are they, in the delightful language of the lawyers, ambulatory? The answer to this question is further complicated by the fact that the laws vary from state to state – in some, the property boundary (beyond which the land, submerged or not, is owned by the state) is the mean high tide line and others the low tide mark (meaning that the public only have the right to walk in the water). And whether or not you are a ‘littoral owner’ with ‘littoral rights’ is also a vexing issue:
It is not necessarily true to assume that anyone owning “oceanfront” or “inlet front” property is a littoral owner with littoral rights. Whether someone is a littoral property owner depends upon whether the ocean or inlet forms at least one boundary of the property. In order to be a littoral owner, the oceanfront owner’s title must run to the mean high water mark.3 If the mean high water mark is not one of the legal boundaries it is not littoral property and there are no littoral rights associated with it, even if the land appears to front the ocean or inlet.
If the property is littoral, then the property owner has the legal right of immediate and direct access to the ocean.
And that legal right of ‘immediate and direct access to’ may also include ‘contact with’ the ocean. All of this runs straight into the controversies over public access and the definition of lands held in ‘public trust’ which is in turn governed by the laws of ‘public easement’. It is arguments around these laws that have led to endless lawsuits in which property owners fight for the right to keep the public off ‘their’ beach.
This is all very well if the beach would only stay where it is and has always been. But of course the beach never stays where it is, changing sedately with tides, waves and sand supply or violently with storms and hurricanes. Beach changes as a result of the sand supply being cut off can take place naturally, or, more often than not, by man-made interventions and disruptions to the natural coastal system.
This is where the lawyers become very interested in the rate of geological processes and develop a series of doctrines accordingly, including the doctrine of avulsion. Not only do they transfer a process of river behaviour to the beach, but, by declaring avulsion to be rapid and sudden, distinguish it explicitly from erosion. In the view of the Florida Supreme Court
“Avulsion” is a sudden and perceptible loss or addition to land by the action of water. In contrast to the doctrines of erosion, reliction, and accretion, the doctrine of avulsion requires the boundary between public and private land to remain at the MHWL as it existed before the avulsive event. Because hurricanes can cause avulsion, with sudden and perceptible shoreline changes, the boundary between private and public property does not change with the changes in the shoreline caused by storms.
The quagmire is immediately apparent. If the rate at which shoreline change occurred is key to the legal outcome of a case, there is plenty of room for wrangling and nit-picking:
Sometimes, courts facing disputes over lost beaches resolve the question by finding that the allegedly avulsive event was erosive instead. Whether something is erosion or avulsion turns out to be a thorny factual issue. Where there is a question of whether a particular shift in shoreline is erosive or avulsive, there is a presumption of erosion, which is overcome if the loss occurred suddenly. The test used in Texas, for example, to distinguish erosion from avulsion is to call erosion any situation where “though the witnesses may see, from time to time, that progress has been made, they could not perceive it while the progress was going on.” In Texas, even storm-related losses have sometimes failed to overcome that presumption. More often, courts have declined to find whether a loss of shoreline was erosive or avulsive and have decided cases on other grounds.
To a geologist or coastal sedimentologist, this is laughable, but for the lawyers, property owners and governments it’s deadly serious, with huge amounts of money at stake. And then there’s the doctrine of accretion that recognises that beaches sometimes build up seaward and, if the property owner’s rights are ambulatory, then their property is extended. But what if the accretion takes place as a result of artificial beach nourishment in the wake of a storm-related avulsive (or erosional) event? Here, things become very tricky indeed – the high tide mark is moved, the property owner may lose their littoral rights to ocean contact and the undesirable public may suddenly gain access to the new beach in front of the mansion. I won’t even begin to summarise the endless and expensive lawsuits that have resulted in this way from beach nourishment. Beach nourishment may be debatable as a sustainable means of managing the coast, but its intention is clear: to protect the beach and property. Despite this, residents sue the nourishers – and, even worse, this then becomes a constitutional issue, for the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that private property may not be taken for public use without just compensation. The private property may now be completely submerged, but…
You may, dear reader, not be able to take much more of this, and I’m not sure I can, but, believe it or not, I have only highlighted a few of the issues. Continue, if you would like, with a case described by the New York Times that makes for interesting reading, as does a recent post-Sandy case (involving Governor Christie, always good value).
And I have just remembered how I got into this: Sand Rights. I had come across an article from years ago titled ‘Sand Called a Resource in Jeopardy’ which, hardly surprisingly, caught my eye. The principle has also been covered by the New York Times. Californian attorney, Katherine E. Stone, was attempting to revive a theory that “is rooted in English common law and legal notions that date to the Roman Empire.”
It holds that sand, like other natural resources, is a public good that should be common to all people. The theory, which has gained credence among engineers, environmentalists and marine scientists, maintains that those who benefit from disrupting sand cycles should be responsible for correcting the damage.
"The beach is the same as a sort of environmental commons," said Ralph Faust, legal counsel to the California Coastal Commission. "It belongs to everyone."
Although the so-called public trust doctrine has been employed in efforts to fight smog, protect drinking water supplies and save Mono Lake, so far courts have not applied it to sand. Attempts by the Legislature to protect sand also have failed, Stone said.
This enlightened view, promoted by the more creative wing of the legal profession, seems to have got absolutely nowhere in the intervening twenty-two years, but the lawyers continue to go to the beach with enthusiasm.
[For those who have the energy to pursue this further, I found useful, and have quoted from, the summaries for North Carolina, a paper titled ‘Where’s the beach? Coastal access in the age of rising tides’, and ‘Climate Change Adaptation and Coastal Property Rights: A Massachusetts Case Study’.]
I realise that this post is later than it should have been, but I would be delinquent if I did not note this extraordinary event. A few years ago, on a dismal and gusty day somehow appropriate for the location, I visited the Normandy town of Arromanches, whose beach, on the 6th June, 1944, was a focus for the D-Day landings.
At Arromanches last month, to mark International Peace Day, artists Andy Moss and Jamie Wardley of Sand in your eye, turned into a very moving reality their extraordinary concept of the ‘Fallen Project.’ “The objective was to make a visual representation of 9000 people drawn in the sand which equates the number of Civilians, Germans Forces and Allies that died during the D-day landings, 6th June during WWII as an example of what happens in the absence of peace. . . . On the day we had 60-70 confirmed volunteers that had travelled from around the world to help. We knew that this was not enough to complete the project in the 4.5 hours that we had so at 3pm when we were about to begin we were overwhelmed by the hundreds of people that turned up to help. . . . [and] took stencils and rakes in hand and embarked on drawing the 9000”