Let’s talk about sand, gravel and rock in the Pacific

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Natural aggregates such as sand, gravel, and limestone are critical for infrastructure but globally these resources are becoming more difficult to access.  Mismanagement of these finite resources along with increased environmental impacts can occur if the resources are not managed effectively and examples of this are becoming common globally. 

Understanding how best to support the development of infrastructure without damaging the environment or developing land that could be used for aggregate such as hard rock is critical for the Pacific into the future.  This is increasingly important as the prediction and impacts of climate change in the region call for greater development of risk informed infrastructure to ensure coastlines and communities are protected.  

Globally, access to natural aggregates is declining and as demands for risk informed infrastructure is increasing in the Pacific, understanding and managing our resources is critical for future sustainability of our region. 

How sand, gravel, and rock are so critical in the Pacific?

If you are in a building which is located in an area close to the ocean or a river, rock or concrete has probably been used to protect the surrounding land from erosion, or gravel might have been used to raise the level of the ground the building is located on to reduce the risk of flooding, coastal hazards and climate change. It’s hard to imagine life without sand, gravel and rock, known as natural aggregates. Most buildings globally are either constructed with concrete to help create resilience against hazards such as cyclones and fire or the foundations are concrete to ensure the building is robust and stable. 

The concrete needed to build infrastructure is made from a mixture of products including sand, gravel, water and cement. The main ingredient in cement is lime produced from crushed rock (limestone) or coral sand and both of these materials can be found across the Pacific.

Cement is used in almost every piece of infrastructure including installation of renewable energies such as solar farms, to build power poles for traditional energy supply, to build roads, and is even used in fertiliser with crushed limestone used to produce food. 

Reaching our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is not possible without adequate supply of aggregate both in the Pacific and globally as these resources are critical to every SDG.

The Three main challenges associated with management of these resources in the Pacific?

These resources are critical for the achievement of most risk informed infrastructure being developed and proposed in the Pacific at present.  The building of seawalls, National Disaster Management Offices that can withstand severe events such as cyclones, and the development of renewable energy sources all require access to aggregate resources.  

If we wish to achieve the SDG’s, it is critical we understand the resources and ensure the conversion of natural capital into financial capital is fair and equitable for all relevant stakeholders.

The top three challenges for the Pacific at present are:  

  1. Some Pacific Island countries and territories (PICT’s) are blessed with natural aggregate resources, others are not so fortunate (for example the atoll nations), therefore identifying resources of sufficient quality and quantity for economic extraction is a key challenge.
  2. It is critical that identified resources are incorporated into land use planning close to urban centres, to reduce transport distances, safeguard resources for future generations, and prevent conflicting land uses.
  3. Pacific communities depend on the surrounding environment for various functions, therefore anticipating, monitoring, and minimising environmental and social impacts associated with extraction operations is vital.

How SPC works to support member countries in understanding and managing aggregates?

SPC supports Pacific Island Governments and communities of our member countries to effectively manage natural aggregate resources in the region by; mapping and testing prospective resources using geological and geophysical investigation techniques, conducting economic analysis of extraction methodologies and value chains, and assessing options to improve social and environmental outcomes. This work is becoming increasingly important as global trends show increasing challenges in accessing suitable aggregates for the development of infrastructure into the future. 

SPC has conducted more than 60 studies related to natural aggregates in the Pacific region over the past 30 years, the latest is a study titled ‘Baseline Assessment of Development Minerals in Fiji’, the study is part of a winder ‘Development Minerals’ programme implemented by UNDP and funded by the ACP and European Union.

How does this impact achieving our SDGs in the Pacific?

It is important to note that Development Minerals are finite resources produced by processes which operate on geological timescales (thousands and millions of years), while society extracts and consumes the resources on human timescales (years, decades and centuries). Therefore, the extraction of Development Minerals is inherently unsustainable in the long term (with the exception of sustainable extraction of certain isolated systems such as carbonate sand deposits generated from productive coral reef systems). 

Development Minerals play a significant role in the sustainable development agenda, through the directly enabling utilisation of the resources (such as construction of infrastructure and improvement of soil quality for agriculture).  Revenues generated from such resources also support increased financial sustainability that can ultimately lead to increased sustainable development initiatives.  It is important to ensure however that environmental and social impacts are understood before extraction takes place.  The table below outlines the connection each SDG has to natural aggregates in the Pacific, outlining the need for increased understanding and information in this sector into the future.

Factsheet

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For more information please email our Georesources & Energy Programme.
Robert Smith, Senior Advisor
Marine Geophysics
Email: [email protected]
Contact number: +679 338 1377 ext: 36266