Mumbai: At a time when the planet’s reserve of sand from its beaches is threatened by smuggling and illegal mining, environmentalists are asking India, as the present international custodian of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), to take a lead in the control of sand mining.

Two environmentalists from the city, Assad Rahmani, Director, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), and Sumaira Abdulali, Convenor, Awaaz Foundation, have written to Union Minister of Environment and Forest, Jayanthi Natarajan, on the degradation of coastal environment.

In their letter, they have pointed, “India [in spite of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification which bans sand mining in CRZ areas including in creeks and on beaches] continues to suffer the adverse effects on biodiversity of illegal sand mining, which is threatening the very existence of beaches and creeks.

“Well-established mafias who control these activities do not hesitate to attack or kill public spirited individuals who interfere.”

Abdulali herself has been attacked by goons when trying to stop illegal sand miners in the beaches of Raigad district where this activity is rampant due to the high demand for sand in the thriving construction industry in neighbouring Mumbai.

They have pointed out how a film, Sand Wars, in which Awaaz Foundation participated and was premiered in May 2013 in Paris, had a record viewership on the TV channel Arte, and precipitated possible policy change in the European Union.

The film is a surprise-investigation into one of the most consumed natural resources on the planet and raises the threat of how three-quarters of the world’s beaches are in decline since “sand is the source of silicon dioxide, a mineral found in our wines, cleaning products and detergents, paper, dehydrated foods, toothpaste, cosmetics and an astounding variety of other products we use on a daily basis”.

“Houses, skyscrapers, bridges, airports, and sidewalks are all partially comprised of sand. It is an elementary particle that is the foundation of our modern development,” say the makers of the film.

They also point out how “sand wars will take us around the world to witness this new gold rush firsthand”.

Awaaz Foundation, which has been working against illegal coastal sand mining for over a decade, partnered last year with BNHS to bring the subject to international and national attention during the CBD, the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, in Hyderabad last October.

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which are ambitious goals adopted in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, in 2010, “could be furthered by taking strict action against coastal sand mining,” say Rahmani and Abdulali in their letter to the minister.