08-04 tallest sandcastle

[Image above] In July 2021, a sandcastle in Denmark set a new Guinness World Record as the tallest sandcastle ever at 21.16 meters (69.42 feet) high. Credit: WION, YouTube

As we continue to slog through the dog days of summer, I’m seeing more and more friends post about their trips to the beach. After last summer saw many public pools and beaches closed due to the pandemic, many people are appreciating the ability to cool off in a swim hole this year during record-shattering heatwaves.

Of course, swimming is only one reason that people go to the beach. There are plentiful other activities to choose from as well, including kayaking, paddleboarding, volleyball, frisbee, searching for seashells—and sand sculpting.

Sand sculpting is an art form that uses sand as the primary material. Only water may be used to compact the sand and give the sand its required hardness. (The video below explains the science of why water makes sand stick.)

Credit: Will Powell, YouTube

While sand sculpting can be as simple as crafting a sandcastle with your friends, the competitive world of sand sculpting adheres to well-thought-out rules, and winners of high-profile competitions can expect to walk home with some serious cash.

This July, the sand sculpting world received big news when a sandcastle in Denmark set a new Guinness World Record as the tallest sandcastle ever. It measured 21.16 meters (69.42 feet) high, beating the previous record of 17.66 meters (57.94 feet) set in 2019, and was made up of 4,860 tonnes of sand.

Led by the seasoned artist Wilfred Stijger of Holland, 30 sand sculptors worked to make the giant structure, which they crowned with a coronavirus pathogen to illustrate how the virus has ruled the world for the past year.

Credit: WION, YouTube

Curious how you can create such elaborate structures out of sand? Master sculptor Dan Doubleday gives some tips on the tools and techniques used in sand sculpting.

Credit: Sanding Ovations MC, YouTube

Despite the popularity of sand sculpting, this quintessential beach activity may become a scarce commodity in the future.

Coastal erosion is the process by which local sea levels rise and strong wave action and coastal flooding wear down or carry away rocks, soils, and/or sands along the coast.

“All coastlines are affected by storms and other natural events that cause erosion; … [but] The extent and severity of the problem is worsening with global sea level rise,” the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit website explains.

A study by scientists for the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission estimates almost half of the world’s sandy beaches could disappear by the end of the century if no action is taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions. A quarter of sandy beaches worldwide have already eroded at a rate of more than 0.5 m per year, shedding over 28,000 square kilometers of land to the sea. Combined with the increasing demand for sand, which also takes a toll on coastal ecosystems, our beaches are very much under threat.

Fortunately, the problem of coastal erosion is gaining more attention in recent years, and many coastal towns are starting to implement proactive measures to protect their coastlines. For example, initiatives in Connecticut and Louisiana are growing native plants to stabilize the beaches, a partnership in the United Kingdom is investigating the environmental impacts of different management approaches, and Indonesia’s Peatland and Mangrove Restoration Agency is looking to restore those two ecosystems in the country.

In addition, authors of a recent paper argue that the JRC study overstates the risk of beach loss.

“…provided that accommodation space is available, beaches migrate landwards as sea level rises and shorelines retreat,” the authors write. Thus, “As sea level rises, shoreline retreat must, and will, happen. Beaches, however, will survive. The biggest threat to the continued existence of beaches is coastal defense structures that limit their ability to migrate.”