The Colors of Sand on different Beaches

Sand is essentially formed of rock and other particles, weathered finer and finer over time.  There are three stages to the process. Summarized briefly, they consist of:

1. The mechanical erosion of large chunks of rock – by fracture on impact, freeze/thaw cycles, and also by abrasion during transportation, say in glacial movements.

2. These relatively larger particles are subjected further to chemical erosion, acted upon by naturally acidic rainfall/water bodies, and chemicals released by living organisms or modified by them.

3. As they are broken down into smaller and smaller bits, they become easily transportable by wind and by water; the movement results in continuous abrasion of one particle against another, and reduces them further in size to form sand.  This may then be carried landward by winds and formed into dunes, or seaward by rivers and streams and finally end up on the shoreline. 

The shoreline itself is constantly scoured and leveled by the oceans, and eroded debris from the sea floor is tossed and spread over millennia onto this flat stretch of land.  Sands from the surrounding landscape are also deposited by streams draining into these seas creating the final make-up of the beach at any particular point.  Since the origin of sand varies at different locations, the color of the beach depends on the surrounding rock formations as well as the composition of the sea floor.

It must be noted that not all shorelines consist of sandy beaches.  Beaches can be equally made up of shingles, pebbles, or cobblestones. Similarly, sandy beaches need not be always associated with oceans alone, they can occur at lakesides and riverbanks as well.  Find out more about how beaches are formed here and basic beach terminology used by the experts is explained concisely over here. Beaches can however, also be formed artificially, man-made beaches are created for recreational purposes at many sites throughout the world.

The color most commonly associated with sand is a type of light ochre, in fact “sand” is often used to convey a particular shade of yellow-brown where colors are used, e.g. in fashion or in paint manufacturing.  People most often talk of “golden” sands, but sands and beaches can come in many different colors: from white ranging through a whole plethora of yellow and brown, to green, pink, and finally even black, or in a rainbow mixture like a tutti frutti sherbet.

*White beaches – “Silver” sand

White sand beaches can be formed either by quartz crystals washed by streams, and also by the erosion of mollusk shells and corals which are white.  The contrast of white sand and clear turquoise waters is extremely pleasant and prized by holidaymakers all over.  These are found most commonly in tropical and sub-tropical regions, many of them island beaches such as Cape Santa Maria in the Bahamas, Silhouette Island in Seychelles and Ile Aux Cerfs in Mauritius.  Cuba, Mexico and many of the Caribbean Islands are also famous for their white or “silver” beaches.

Many beaches along the North African Mediterranean coast are white, Marsa Matrouh in Egypt and Boujaffer in Tunisia being just two examples. Staying with Africa, Tanzania and Kenya also have white beaches.  Zanzibar is the most well known and popular example of a white beach on this continent.

However, some of the most popular white beaches are located in Australia: the Whitehaven and the Hyams beach in Jervis Bay, the former a recipient of several travel awards.  In the USA, the Siesta Key’s Crescent beach has dazzling white sands which are pure quartz washed down from the Appalachian Mountains many hundreds of miles away. 

*”Golden” sand beaches

Most of the famous beaches in the world, excepting the ones mentioned above, are made up of “sand” colored sand.  Shades of yellow are the most common colors for beaches. In real terms, golden sands can be the palest blonde possible, through to butterscotch, and deepen to honey and caramel.  Famous beaches with large visitor numbers include the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro and Waikiki in Honolulu.  The longest natural golden beach is Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh.  Other examples on different continents include many beaches in Spain, Italy, France in Europe as well as Thailand, India, Philippines in Asia, and also elsewhere.

*Pink sand beaches

In some cases, red or pink coral remains are eroded to form beautiful pink beaches.   Evidently, such types of beaches are found where there are large coral reef formations.  The most famous example is Harbor Island in the Bahamas, but pink colored sand is also found in Cabo Rojo in Puerto Rico; Bottom Bay in Barbados; Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda; Santa Cruz Islands, Philippines; Cruden Bay, Scotland and Tikehau in Tahiti.

*Other unusually colored beaches

Minerals present in the environment often wash into the shoreline and color the sand on beaches, and in some cases very unusual colors can be found amongst the sands.  For example, Pfeiffer beach in California’s Big Sur has purple colored sands from the manganese garnet that has washed down from the surrounding hills.  Similarly, the presence of olivine crystals in the surroundings, colors the sand green in some very rare beaches in Guam and Hawaii.  Hawaii has the uncommon distinction of having beaches in rare shades – green as well as black, the latter due to volcanic activity. Black sand beaches are also found Argentina, South Pacific Islands, Tahiti, and Greece, though Hawaii is the most famously known.  Hawaii also has red sand beaches at Maui due to the presence of iron-rich cinder cones there. 

Volcanic deposits have colored beaches in Malta and Sardinia a deep orange, in addition to the orange colored limestone eroded into the sands.  Many of the beaches formed by volcanic activity also contain gemstones such as topaz, garnets, rubies, sapphires and lastly diamonds as is the case with the beach in Chameis Bay in Namibia.

The Rainbow beach in Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia combines a rainbow of colors; more than 70 different colors are displayed on its sands as winds and waves move them around.  This is due to the nearby cliffs formed during the ice age, banded into different striation of colors which are clearly visible and demarcated.  These cliffs form the substrate for the formation of the beach and lend their varied colors to it.

As is evident, not all sands are “sand” colored.  They come in a varied mix and one can actually choose the color of beach destinations!  Find out more about visiting, exploring and vacationing at unusual beaches.