Under the Sun
Dwindling dunes draw many lines in the sand
IN our troubled world, there is no shortage of things to worry about.
There are the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with all the mayhem and death, the legally suspect domestic spying President Bush has authorized, the administration's plan to sell hundreds of thousands of acres of public forest lands to the highest-bidding developers, the dismantling of the endangered species act, Iran's uranium enrichment program, the insidious erosion of individual privacy, not to mention prevarication about "terror events" and weapons of mass destruction or the general ineptitude of government response to natural disasters.
Closer to home, the high price of housing that increasingly pushes families to homelessness, the high price of electricity, the high price of gasoline, the high price of mass transit -- actually, the high price of everything -- along with traffic congestion, overdevelopment, pollution and the growing noisiness that accompanies city life contribute to unease and distress.
Now, out of the blue, comes a problem I'd never expected: a shortage of sand.
Most of us are aware that our natural resources are finite, that there are measurable limits to fossil fuels, land and water.
But sand? That gritty stuff that gets caught 'tween swimsuit and okole, that filters onto car seats after a day at the beach, that dusts musubis and teri chicken at picnics, that the trades puff into our eyes? That sand?
It's true. According to a consultant's report prepared for Maui County, pretty soon, in about five to seven years, sand that is excavated on the Valley Isle will run out.
So what's the big deal?
Well, it seems that 70 percent of Maui's sand is shipped to Oahu, where it is mixed with cement to make concrete used in home and commercial construction. Less supply and more demand will mean a bump-up in the price, which, in turn, will increase the cost of buildings.
Of course, people on Maui want a stop to sending their sand to Honolulu or anywhere else in the state to keep construction costs in check there. Houses on Maui are some of the most expensive in Hawaii and if hoarding will restrain increases, who can blame them?
Maui, which reports say has been the main source of commercial sand since the 1970s, has a lot more grains in the ground. Ironically, most of it has been covered over by development and residents of the homes that sit on those dunes would probably be upset if the stuff is dug up from under them.
Though there's lots of sand in the ocean, sucking up supplies from the sea floor would be expensive and the environmental costs may be prohibitive since silt and other contaminants may have fouled the off-shore material.
In addition to construction needs, shoreline erosion requires replenishment of sand on Hawaii's beaches from time to time. Bringing in sand from the mainland or other countries isn't an option. Hawaii's ocean plants and animals need true grit, local sand, for environmental stability.
I suppose there are other places in the state where sand can be mined -- maybe on Kauai or Molokai -- but eventually, those will run out, too.
As for nature replenishing itself, experts say dunes were probably formed over hundreds if not thousands of years through geologic actions that no longer take place here.
So it's left to human resourcefulness to figure out what to do.
In the meantime, the sand shortage is a lesson to keep in mind as we run through the products of our world and presume we recognize and can control the consequences.
There are lines in the sand for consumption. Then pau already, no more.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org