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What's So Remarkably Different About Beach Sand in the Caribbean?

This article is from reader Mikey D.:


Depending on where beaches are located, the "sand" lining them can be comprised of different minerals. These different mineral compositions cause the beaches to react differently to weather and sea conditions, and they even look and feel different just walking on the "sand" or sifting it through one's fingers. Some "sand" lends itself to the construction of sand castles and sand sculptures better than other kinds of sand, depending on the size and shape of the grains. The famous sand dunes along Lake Michigan actually seem to "whistle" when people walk on them.


The beaches along the Atlantic shore, from Florida all the way up, are comprised chiefly of silica, silicon dioxide, which is the most common form of sand. It is used extensively in construction and industry, as well as in the manufacture of glass. It is created primarily through the erosion of quartz rock. But other kinds of rock can contribute to the sand mix, too, as well as pulverized sea shells. The grains of sand may be more or less coarse, lighter or darker, larger or smaller.

The "sand" in SXM is not silica. Rather, it is comprised chiefly of pulverized coral, calcium carbonate. Sea shells are calcium carbonate, as are eggshells. It reacts very differently to wave and weather action than silica "sand" because it is typically shaped differently. Virtually all Caribbean beaches are comprised of coral, which is why they vary in color from island to island or even from one beach to another on some islands. That is, the "sand" reflects the color of the coral, a living organism, from which the "sand" was made. Some beaches are nearly white, others may be red or pink or yellow or even black.

Coral beaches seem to behave differently than silica beaches, and we don't really know all that much about how or why because, until recently, geologists did not pay much attention to sand beaches. Although we do know that the slope of the shore and the nature of the waves on any particular beach play an important role. That is why so many human interventions have turned out to be futile, temporary, or to have unintended consequences.

We have no way of knowing what Orient beach might look like in December or January, or even four weeks from now. Consider how rapidly and dramatically Cupecoy changes, for example.

So let's just enjoy as much or as little of it as there is and not worry about it.

Tags: St. Maarten beach sand

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