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A Travesty: Black Sand Mining in Liberia

Updated: Jun 11

Liberian locals are fed up with the black sand mining occurring on their soils. Despite a government ban on exporting black sand, complaints have indicated that this is primarily being conducted by companies in China operating at night.

Black sand aka Zircon in Liberia is said to be valued at millions of dollars, with some noting, "...a ton of black sand in a 25kg rice bag costs about US$3,000 and that such a quantity unscrupulously taken away by foreign nationals is detrimental to Liberia’s future".

“How much is Liberia benefiting"?

Zircon, also known as zircon silicate (ZrSiO4), is found in ancient mineral sand deposits and is used primarily in the ceramics industry. China and Australia are the biggest importers of zircon sand, with Africa an emerging market. Global trade is estimated to reach US$3.69 billion by 2029. With this level of potential growth, why are Liberians blocked from participating in this trade and China allowed to mine illegally?

Photo: Zircon/Black Sand illegally mined and bagged for export

The New Dawn Liberia states “According to [locals], the activities of these illegal miners are destroying their land and having a devastating impact on the environment. They lament that this is a travesty against the State, as dredging is crisscrossing the Mangrove swarm “(Wetland)” preserved for Liberia’s environmental benefits.”

Pictured above is the black sand in Liberia at one of the sites illegally mined.

The article goes on to share that “Mr. Alex C. Gontee, former Vice Presidential Candidate for the Grassroots Development Movement (GDM), and his wife, Mrs. Talloh K. Gontee, own a portion of 16.5 acres of land being illegally occupied by an unnamed Chinese company in Marshall, lower Margibi County…[a]ccording to them, despite a government ban on exporting black sand, a group of Chinese still operates at night, infringing on their land while exporting what they describe as strategic minerals to China.”

Many Liberians are concerned that this illegal mining is going to have a negative affect on their economy amongst other environmental concerns.

$0.0052 USD = $1 Liberian Dollar

This means 1 bag of sand is $581,984.55 Liberian Dollar

Certain environmental concerns include the continuous mining depleting their land of this precious natural resource, as well as the inland dredging. Locals are concerned that these actions will have an environmental impact.

It has been proven that sand removal, aka sand mining, can have many negative environmental impacts, including:

  • Habitat loss Removing sand from riverbeds, lakes, and seabeds can destroy habitats that are important for many plant and animal species. These habitats provide food, shelter, and breeding grounds for aquatic organisms like fish, insects, and aquatic plants.

  • Erosion Sand removal can cause erosion, which can remove protection against coastal hazards like hurricanes and extreme waves. This erosion can also threaten critical infrastructure like roads and railways.

  • Water quality Sand removal can impact water quality in several ways, including:

  • Waterways Sand mining can change how waterways flow and flood, which can threaten water security and lower groundwater capacity. This can raise water costs for local communities.

  • Aquifers Sand removal can lead to salination of aquifers and drying (adding salt into drinking water)

  • Biodiversity Sand removal can reduce biodiversity, especially for aquatic ecosystems.

  • Climate change Sand extraction contributes to climate change, with the carbon footprint per metric ton of silica sand extraction increasing depending on the quality of the sand.

It is important that we educate ourselves on what’s happening to our brothers and sisters around the globe. When you know better, you can do better. What can you do on a national and global scale to stop these mining practices? such as a petition being drafted and word of it spreading fast through social media. We can make a global impact from our respective corners of this vast Earth.

Learn more here and share this with someone else, let’s get this news out to others!

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