Environmental activists and marine experts have criticized the Indonesian government’s decision to lift a 20-year-old ban on exporting sea sand, saying the policy will exacerbate ecological damage for the sake of foreign exchange revenue.

The government regulation, which went into effect May 15, states that sea sand may be sold abroad as long as producers can ensure domestic supplies for reclamation work and other infrastructure development projects. It also says dredging may only take place in open-water marine areas where “natural” sedimentation has occurred, while coastal areas and small islands are off-limits to the activity.

Yonvitner, head of the coastal and marine resources research center at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), said that the new regulation refers to maritime and investment laws for its fundamental legal framework, but makes no reference whatsoever to environmental and conservation laws.

He also said the economic benefits of exporting sea sand will be dwarfed by the ecological losses and subsequent restoration costs, especially if sea sand becomes a commodity whose economic value is determined by the markets.

“When there’s a fluctuation in the price of sand, it will be our loss, and therefore the economic considerations will become much less valuable,” he said at an online press conference on June 1.

Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, the minister for marine affairs, said exports this time around would be regulated more strictly than before.

“This regime is different from that of 20 years ago which banned sea sand extraction and sale, because at that time, there wasn’t any regulation about sedimentation, and what happened then was the suction of sand from the coasts and small islands,” he said at a press conference in Jakarta on May 31.