Sand and Gravel
Thousands of years ago, the last of the glaciers retreated at the end of the Ice Age, leaving behind vast deposits of clean, well-sorted silica sand and gravel over the region. Today, southeastern Massachusetts is characterized by a unique combination of sandy soils, rare Pine Barrens forests, wetlands, and coastal habitats. These ecosystems provide important ecological services, such as water filtration, carbon sequestration, and wildlife habitat.
The ecosystems created by sandy soils are unique to our region. Because the sand is so well sorted, water passes through the ground easily, depleting the soil of nutrients. Because calcium and magnesium are easily leached out of our soils, there is no natural buffer to carbonic acid produced during the natural carbon break-down cycle. Therefore, our soils are naturally acidic. Because of the nutrient poor, acidic soils, a unique ecosystem of adapted plants evolved, called the Pine Barrens, typically characterized by pitch pine and scrub oak forests. The region is also home to numerous rare and endangered species, including the northern red-bellied cooter and the barrens buck moth. The region is known for producing a variety of crops that are adapted to the sandy, acidic soils, including blueberries and cranberries. However, because not many crops are adapted to our types of soils, this region did not experience the vast deforestation of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that took place for agriculture. Therefore, the forests you see about you are native and have been here, undisturbed, for thousands of years.
The clean sand and gravel underneath our feet has several environmental benefits including wetland creation and water filtration. Our sandy soils form the base of wetlands, which are essential habitats for many aquatic and semi-aquatic species. Because the sandy soils are so permeable, the surface water you see in wetlands, lakes and streams is directly connected to the groundwater. Sand and gravel helps filter water as it passes through them, removing impurities and pollutants. This improves the water quality in our streams, rivers, and lakes. Sadly, our sand is being targeted for sand mining by a greedy construction industry, thirsty for our clean, well-sorted resource.
Sand and gravel are essential materials for construction projects such as roads, buildings, and bridges. However, sand and gravel extraction is having devastating environmental impacts in our region, such as habitat destruction, erosion, and water pollution. We potentially face long-term consequences for the health of our drinking water and our ecosystem as a whole from the tens of millions of cubic yards of sand and gravel that have been mined from southeastern Massachusetts.