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"Though the cross-section of a rippled sand surface often assumes an outline which closely resembles both the actual cross-section of a disturbed water-air surface and also the graph on a time basis of any simple vibration, the resemblance is in appearance only."
Ralph Bagnold, The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes

Water is cool, but how much cooler would it be if we replaced it with sand? Rivers, lakes, whirlpools, even whole oceans of sand that behave more or less exactly like a body of water are common in desert settings. Bonus points if ships sail said sandy seas (say that ten times really fast). You will even often find native life swimming in (or above) these seas, with everything from Sand Guppies to threatening Sand Sharks to full-blown Sand Worms.

A commonly found type is the sand whirlpool, which works in a similar manner to quicksand in that anyone who steps into one will be quickly pulled down and suffocate.

In a broader sense, this can also apply to when anything solid or semi-solid is treated like water. For instance, while swimming in a pool of coins.

While sand can act like a fluid, it is a non-Newtonian fluid which means it won't act like water. You can stand on it when it is stationary, for example, but not when it is fluidized. Just about everyone must have seen the experiment where you blow air through sand, giving a fluidized bed that behaves like water. It's also extremely abrasive: anything with sand running over it or through it is likely to be scoured down to nothing fairly quickly unless it's harder than quartz, especially if it has mechanical parts. It's also a tad difficult to breathe sand, whether you attempt it with gills or lungs. But, hey, it's cool enough so we can forgive it.

This is often a feature of the Shifting Sand Land, the Sea of Sand and the Thirsty Desert. For another substance that is often treated like funny-looking water, see Lava Is Boiling Kool-Aid.

Compare Space Is an Ocean, The Sky Is an Ocean. Contrast Water Is Air.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Area 88 manga features a desert aircraft carrier: an aircraft carrier on tracks that can submerge itself in the sand and move around 'underwater.' It doesn't dive like a submarine, though; it pumps sand up to bury itself. It also has a few problems with overheating.
  • Played straight in Cardcaptor Sakura when Sakura and Syaoran are attacked by "The Sand" card whose main power appears to be this trope, even creating a sand whirlpool!
  • Children of the Whales has this as a setting. Characters use boats to travel on a sea of sand.
  • In the desert world of Crazy Food Truck, there are still isolated lakes, like in Towata, but many areas of sand have sea life in them, like squid and oysters. Gordon mentions that life "adapted and evolved" (in only a few hundred years since the Unspecified Apocalypse).
  • Sand ships and sand dolphins can be purchased in the ridiculously advanced future of Doraemon; in Doraemon: Nobita's Dorabian Nights, Nobita and company discover that Sinbad the Sailor (of the Arabian Nights) was the beneficiary of such gifts from a grateful time traveling tourist who'd got stranded in the desert and saved by Sinbad.
  • Goblin Slayer: The desert of Volume 11 has sand-dwelling magic sealife and boat-riding nomads. One of the locals in the capital city of the desert kingdom outright calls it "the sand sea".
  • Most incarnations of Gundam have at least one "Land Battleship" that behaves like a seagoing ship, only in the desert. The biggest offender is probably Kazuhisa Kondo's manga adaptation of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, in which the Federation's Big Tray class, a futuristic giant hovercraft/tank thing in the original has been completely redesigned to look like a naval ship & features prominently throughout the "Earth-Arc", "sailing" around a desertified Eastern Europe (possibly justified as being actual naval ships that had simply been retrofitted with amphibious capability, but it's still a bloody silly thing to do).
    • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED attempts a justification by saying the sand-ships use a "scale system", where the vibrations of micro-scales propel the ship in the same fashion as a fish's fins. Naturally, it works just as well underwater.
  • Heroic Age in the first episode features a squid-like creature that lives in the sand (though it can also hover above the ground) and has the main character dive into the sand to wrestle it underground.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Golden Wind: Secco's Stand, Oasis, gives him the ability to treat any stone or earth as this. It's a virtually unbeatable combo with his partner, Cioccolata, whose Green Day generates a virulent fungal infection that spreads extremely rapidly, but only when its victims move to a lower elevation.
    • JoJolion: Doremifasolati Do can burrow through ground like its water, but this only applies to natural ground like soil.
  • Naruto:
    • Gaara effortlessly controls sand, and with moves like "Sand Drizzle" and "Sand Waterfall", it's obvious that sand is water for him.
    • Orochimaru once uses a jutsu to let him traverse through dirt like water, even using a Reed Snorkel, to spy on Team 7.
  • One Piece:
    • Used during an anime filler section of the Alabasta arc where Luffy comes across pirates whose ships can travel on the desert for some reason.
    • Senor Pink of the Donquixote Pirates takes this Up to Eleven, as his Devil Fruit, the Sui Sui no Mi (Swim Swim Fruit), allows him to swim through any solid surface. Ironic when you remember that all Devil Fruits rob the user of their ability to swim in water.
    • Jinbe's Seraphim clone, S-Shark, has an artificial copy of Senor Pink's Devil Fruit, which is made outright deadly by the fact that it synergizes with his inherited Fishman Karate skills, letting him manipulate solid ground in the same way the original Jinbe manipulates water.
  • The Bardanos in Leiji Matsumoto's Ozuma could create a field that made sand behave exactly like water, allowing the ship to submerge like a submarine.
  • Project AKO:
    • The terrain of the desert world of Blue Side/Grey Side seems to shift from sand to water at the whim of the writers and animators.
    • In Uncivil Wars, a mercenary trying to kidnap C-Ko has a craft that travels through sand like a submarine. B-Ko even use depth charges to attack the craft.
  • The Reflection: Sea Serpent, besides having the ability to swim in water, he can also swim in loose sand.
  • The Sands of Destruction anime had this. Falling into sand made splashing noises, there were rowboats and motorboats that moved through sand like water, and a pair of apples were once seen falling into the sand...then acting like they were floating downriver. Taken Up to Eleven with a sand ocean... and a boat that docks from the sand ocean to the sand beach. There's also a sand submarine whose engines somehow don't clog, and sand jellyfish (which look like ordinary water jellyfish) and sand whales (which look like giant sea serpents) also live in the sand sea. The manga played it a bit more realistically, with humans being capable of walking on the surface of the sand sea, but the snake-like sand whales still swim in it freely and humans typically use boats to get around on it because they're more efficient than walking.
  • Secret of Cerulean Sand. Funny thing about this anime is that if you read the title, you'd think "this is The Secret of Blue Water with sand" and... yeah, it basically is.
  • In the manga Stone, this is pretty much what the entire world is like. It isn't quite "sand" or mud or water, but a combination of the three that pretty much behaves like water. Ships sail on it. Life lives in it, including whales, etc.
  • Densharks in Toriko can vomit on the ground, making a puddle to swim into. Earlier on, during the Mellow Cola arc, Toriko and Zebra navigate a huge confusing desert infested with giant fish able to swim across the sand as if it was water.
  • In Zoids: New Century, the aquatic Zoid War Shark got the ability to swim through sand as well.

    Comic Books 
  • In Lanfeust of the Stars, a planet has oceans of sand due to a strong planetary magnetic field (that also prevents spacecraft from entering the atmosphere anywhere but at the poles). Bonus points for having ships hunting sand-whales — including a giant white one.
  • Sub Girl, part of the Tank Girl, Jet Girl and Sub Girl trifecta from the Tank Girl comics, pilots a submarine that sometimes travels underneath the desert sand.

    Film — Animated 
  • Invoked in The Adventures of Tintin (2011). Tintin and Captain Haddock are in a desert when Haddock tells Tintin about his ancestor as he looks out over the sand dunes. Cue a virtually seamless transition between the dunes and a ship sailing on the ocean waves.
  • The avalanche in Mulan is more Snow Is Water. Which, well, it is, though it doesn't usually behave exactly like it.
  • In Soul, a group of astral projectors led by Moonwind sail an enormous ship across the sands of The Zone, looking for lost souls to heal.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Dune (2021). An approaching Sand Worm vibrates the ground to cause soil liquefaction, essentially turning hard-packed, walkable sand into quicksand for Fast Tunnelling. When Paul and Jessica are fleeing a sandworm to the safety of a rocky outcrop, they barely make it in time and a 'wave' of sand washes up on the rocks as the sandworm turns away.
  • The kids' film Magic Island featured a sand shark — which could be thwarted by feeding it bubble gum.
  • In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, the elderly chartered accountants in The Crimson Permanent Assurance sail across the desert in a piratized brownstone office building.
    "It's fun to charter an accountant / And sail the wide accountant-sea. / To find, explore, the funds off-shore / and skirt the shoals of bankruptcy! / It can be manly in insurance; / We'll up your premiums semi-annually. / It's all tax-deductible; / We're fairly in-corruptible; / We're sailing on a wide accountant-sea!"
  • Played With in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, when the crew arrives at the titular location looking for Jack and find him standing triumphantly on the Pearl as it sails over a sand dune- only to discover it's being carried by thousands of little sand crabs.
  • The Princess Bride has this. In the novel it's simply so lightly packed that you fall into it like it's not there.
  • The horror movie Sand Sharks actually does make mention of the real creatures sand tiger sharks. But of course, they are actually talking about a prehistoric version that can swim through sand.
  • Tank Girl:
    • Lori Petty takes a shower while in the Water & Power prison. In sand. Mmm.
    • "Rain Lady" corresponds to the character "Sub Girl" from the comics, and plows her submarine through the desert for the Final Battle!
  • In the first Tremors movie, the survivors find themselves stranded on a rock "island" surrounded by Graboid "sharks".

  • One of the Impossible Tasks in either Arabian Nights or the Grimm Fairy Tales (or possibly both) is "create a ship that can sail on sand (or land, in the case of Grimm) as on water". The hero usually has to call in the help of some supernatural creature to assist.
  • In The Atlantropa Articles, Ansel has a massive ship that sails through the sands of the Kiln desert.
  • Meredith Ann Pierce's The Darkangel Trilogy had a Sea of Dust, over which the heroine sails a skiff in the second book. It's even got fisherfolk, whales, and sea serpents.
  • The Discworld has the Great Nef, a desert with an ocean of dehydrated water (a silvery powder) at its centre. This is explicitly described to be a fourth state of water, only attainable in a high thaumic field. The desert nomads who live there sail on ships that wouldn't look out of place in the Circle Sea. It's also briefly mentioned to be home to very strange fish.
  • Dune:
    • Sandworms swim through the deserts like through the water. The sandworms also generated intense heat and triggered some extremely powerful electromagnetic storms from all the friction. The sandworms' larvae are plankton-like and serve a similar function in the sand ecology.
    • Played even straighter with tidal dust basins, basins of dust so deep they have tides, which an unwary traveler can wander into and die.
    • Shortly after the Atreides' arrival on Arrakis, one House soldier declares his readiness for a nice hot shower, only to be told that he'll have to make do with sand.
    • In The Film of the Book 'Children of Dune', James McAvoy discovered that sand is most definitely NOT water (see 2:28 - 3:05 of this interview).
  • In Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion series, Ulrik (an incarnation of Elric) sails upon an ocean of salt. His boat is normal but pulled by two very large serpent-like creatures.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's A Fall of Moondust is based on the idea that some lunar basins are filled with very fine dust that behaves like a liquid in the moon's relatively weak gravitational field. Clarke accounts for some differences, by the way — the moonship Selene glides atop the dust, not really swims in it. Probably some smaller details are unrealistic, but we know that real moon dust is seemingly unrealistic, too. A case of Science Marches On.
  • John Varley's Gaea Trilogy: Subverted in Demon. Gaea created a replica of the sandworms from intercepted earth fiction, except that the replica barely moves at all; it just sort of sits there on top of the desert. The characters comment on the physical improbability of something that size moving through sand.
  • Bruce Sterling's Involution Ocean is made of this trope.
  • Martian sand in Larry Niven's Known Space is so finely ground that it behaves like a liquid.
    • One history of Larry Niven, also of his Known Space, takes place in a planet covered by sand-like organic compounds (fullerenes) that behave like a liquid and have almost null friction.
  • Land of Oz: In The Road to Oz, the fifth book of the Oz series, Dorothy, Toto, Button-Bright, Polychrome, and the Shaggy Man travel across the Deadly Desert to Oz in a "sand boat", which is described as "a sleigh with sails and a rudder".
  • According to Mandeville's Travels (14th century), there is a "Sea of Sand" in India which consists of sand that flows like water, and which has fish that are "different than other fishes" but still edible. There is also a river of rocks flowing into the Sea of Sand.
  • In Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, Martians had sand ships.
  • William Goldman described this in great detail in The Princess Bride and later lampshades the research he did for it in The Color Of Light.
  • The Railsea is an ocean of sand that you can only cross by train. Dangerous monsters will attack the second you step off the rail.
  • Tress of the Emerald Sea has oceans of spores — however, they are explicitly stated to behave as liquids due to liquefaction caused by air emissions beneath the surface, and as a result can solidify, causing ships to become stranded until the emissions start up again.
  • Hugh Howey (author of Wool) has another serial novel called Sand in which divers use vibration suits to swim through sand and scavenge treasure.


    Live-Action TV 
  • The Hercules and Xena series both featured man-eating sand sharks that could do this.
  • The Outer Limits (1963): The episode "The Invisible Enemy" has several giant monsters swimming through the sands of Mars, "living in the sand like a shark in the ocean!" (They aren't Sand Worms, they have heads and crab claws). The sand sea even has a tide that rises and falls.
  • Primeval featured "sand scorpions" that could do this: sometimes there's a visible wake on the surface of the sand, other times there is no trace of their passing, even though they're as big as hippos. They also embody another classic howler in being large carnivores living in a barren desert with no apparent food except visiting humans.

    Music And Sound Effects 
  • Inverted in "A Horse with No Name" with the line "The Ocean is a desert with its life underground".

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons has several examples:
    • The Greyhawk setting. The Sea of Dust had "dust lakes" which acted like water, including supporting boats and allowing people to swim through it.In one Greyhawk novel, a group sets out to cross the Sea of Dust, using a ship outfitted with huge inflated wheels. This becomes a subversion when the wheels get punctured by cacti and the ship is left immobile, something that wouldn't happen on the water.
    • Bulettes are monsters that are more or less quadrupedal, armored land sharks.
    • The asherati are a desert-dwelling humanoid race with the ability to "sandswim," and can dive through loose sand as easily as a fish moves through water. They navigate beneath the sand's surface with light shed by their bodies, and have built entire cities out of sight beneath the dunes.
    • The Abyss also has a river of salt... which will dehydrate you and grate you to a paste if you fall in.
    • The Dark Sun setting has the Sea of Silt. This is a semi-aversion; although it has enough sea-like characteristics to qualify for the trope (pseudo-sailing vessels, silt-monsters), there are also many notable differences. It's described as essentially a gigantic basin full of dry quicksand. In the 4E update of the setting, it was declared that the Sea of Silt is caused by Elemental Chaos leaking through and changing local physics.
    • The Spelljammer D&D setting had merfolk native to... you guessed it, sand.
  • In Exalted, far to the south, near the Pole, people actually have sand ships that are used as transport and in warfare.
  • Gamma World had a landshark which swims through the soil, justified in that it uses innate telekineisis to burrow at high speeds.
  • Rocket Age's Mars has Silt Seas, full of life. Good luck trying to swim in it if you're not evolved to, however, although you can sail over it.
  • Talislanta plays this one fairly straight, with giant sand eels and duneships. Land barges, yet another type of wheeled ship, are a partial subversion, as they're used on flat steppes as well as sand.

  • BIONICLE has "The Sea of Liquid Sand." It's technically a sea of quicksand.

    Video Games 
  • On Banjo-Kazooie's sixth level, Gobi's Desert, there are pools of sand that have small waves going across them, almost like boiling water. Obviously, entering these pools without the Wading Boots is hazardous to your health.
  • Breath of Fire IV has dragons that can swim through water, including a transparent, worm-like dragon that lives in a sea of mud.
  • The sand sharks in Bubsy serve as Nightmare Fuel.
  • Sand Zone from Cave Story features aptly named sand crocs which prey on any hapless victim that falls into otherwise solid sand in which they can seemingly swim.
  • One sidequest in Chrono Trigger features lots of sand currents and sand whirlpools. The characters can walk on the sand, they just won't stay in one place for very long. You access said area by falling through a sand whirlpool.
  • In Darksiders, a giant desert exists populated by absolutely enormous sand worms swimming easily through it. Strangely, War sinks hip deep into this stuff and his movement slows to a crawl but can run atop it when mounted on his giant horse Ruin...
  • Deep Rock Galactic: The Sandblasted Corridors may have actual sandstone rather than sand, but Nayaka Trawlers don't seem to care at all. They're the only ones that get to treat the floor this way however, and it's specifically noted as something really strange they can do. But they will swim through sandstone at you, grab you, and then exploit the fact to you it's still sand to try and subject you to a horrible death through abrasion by dragging you through the sandstone; it's a good thing your heavy armor manages to stave off a lot of that harm.
  • Etrian Odyssey:
    • Etrian Odyssey: In the first floor of Sandy Barrens (16th floor overall in the Yggdrasil Labyrinth), there are several passageways where sand is flowing steadily, effectively acting as conveyor belts. These cannot be overriden, so the player's character party has to figure out the right path to advance to the next floor.
    • Etrian Odyssey Nexus: The drifting sands originally seen in Sandy Barrens in the first game and its remake make a return here, not only in the first floor of Sandy Barrens once again but also in the Mini-Dungeon Forest of the End (despite its name, it's also a Shifting Sand Land location like Sandy Barrens).
  • In Fantasy Life, one of the places where fish can be found is the desert's sand. There are also some that live in lava.
  • The Final Fantasy series is also fond of this trope.
    • The Desert of Shifting Sands (or Quicksand Desert) in Final Fantasy V is essentially a convoluted set of rapids, also featuring a sandworm.
    • Figaro Castle in Final Fantasy VI was able to turn into a sand-submarine and move between two deserts.
    • Final Fantasy VIII has the two Fastitocalon enemies, FISH that not only treated sand as water, but could also do the same with air.
    • In Final Fantasy IX, the sand that flows through and down Cleyra acts very much like water. There are even floodgates for it. There are also sand whirlpools here and in one of the deserts, which will pull you under if you step into them.
    • Final Fantasy XII has the Ogir-Yensa and Nam-Yensa sandseas, both massive oceans of quicksand. As if to emphasize that point; there are oil rigs which is basically how the heroes crossed the sandseas, and the native Urutan-Yensa traverse the place on giant fishes.
    • Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII:
      • Lightning can surf on sand dunes. Oddly, she can do this even when the ground is not sloped enough to facilitate movement. Somewhat justified in that manipulating gravity is one of her powers.
      • Previous games gave us the Sahagin, a (presumably) amphibious animal found next to water. In Lightning Returns we get the Desert Sahagin, which swims through the sand.
    • Taken to its illogical extreme in Final Fantasy XIV, where you can actually 'fish' in sand.
  • Golden Sun:
    • Golden Sun features an entire dungeon (Venus Lighthouse) devoted to solving puzzles with this trope.
    • In Golden Sun: The Lost Age, you get a spell that lets you swim under sand (technically, you turn yourself into a sentient, mobile pile of sand). Which you use in the last dungeon to swim through glass panels to avoid a flamethrower.
  • Guild Wars 2: Zig-zagged. The sands of the Crystal Desert are filled with marine-type animals like land sharks, sand eels, and skimmers (which resemble giant manta rays). However, walking through the sand is just like walking on other land. There are also pits full of quicksand that kill you quickly (similar to video game lava), unlike water which is swimable. However, skimmers can glide over both water and sand, and get the same speed boost for each.
  • The makers of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak said that they intended to make a "naval" game. What with the aircraft carrier on treads. Wind-powered sand ships capable of making the trip from pole to pole appear in the backstory.
  • The House of the Dead 2 has a hydra-like boss known as Tower. In its first fight, the player kills 4 out of its 5 heads, but the last one has to be hunted and killed at either a watery or a sand-filled arena, neither environment stopping it from just swimming through.
  • Played around with in Journey. Sometimes, the sand acts like sand. At other times, you can surf through it like water, and watch it glisten and ripple like water as well. The use of marine animal styles for the "cloth creatures" makes the parallel even stronger.
  • In Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil, you can surf on sand with the surfboard after the Sea of Tears has been dried up. The failed physics is corrected somewhat when you account for a floating board.
  • Last Train Outta' Worm Town: While the Worms can't punch straight through solid rock on the surface, no such obstacles appear to obstruct them underground; they can burrow around effortlessly, practically gliding through the sand... and build up enough momentum to launch themselves out of the ground with impressive amounts of force.
  • The Legend of Zelda series likes this trope. Numerous games feature monsters that swim through sand, including but not limited to Leevers, Lanmolas, Moldorms, and (in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks) Malgyorgs. Most of them are worms of some sort, but Malgyorgs are sand-swimming sharks.
    • Link's Awakening: A sand whirlpool appears on a single screen of the Yarna Desert. A Lanmolas appears here as a Mini-Boss, and defeating it is necessary to get a key that opens the entrance to a dungeon.
    • Ocarina of Time has a giant river of sand flowing through the desert. Using the Hookshot to latch onto a wooden post at the other side is necessary to avoid falling onto it.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games:
      • Oracle of Seasons has a small desert with sand whirlpools and a half-buried pirate ship. One of the major quests is to get the ship unburied and back out to sea.
      • Oracle of Ages has a mole miniboss who does this, attacking from underneath with its drill-nose. Fortunately, it's completely helpless aboveground when dug up.
    • Twilight Princess: The fourth dungeon, Arbiter's Grounds, not only features sinking sand but has sand whirlpools.
    • Spirit Tracks: This is how Malgyorgs move through it. Most sand-dwelling enemies in the Zelda series are worms of some sort, but Malgyorgs are sand-swimming sharks (serving as distant cousins of the sea-dwelling Gyorgs from Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass).
    • Skyward Sword: Many rivers of sand flow across Lanayru Desert, and it's even justified because you're using crystals that revert their surroundings to their past state. Most of the desert was once an ocean. It's also exemplified in the Lanayru Sand Sea, where the effect of the Timeshift Stone in Skipper's boat transforms the vast ocean of sand into water as you move along. Played straight, however, with a scorpion the size of a bus that can instantly burrow itself in the sand and move around, which you unbury with a reverse vacuum cleaner.
    • Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom: On top of the Molduga enemy that acts as a fast Sand Worm in the Gerudo Desert, there are also Sand Seals, walrus-like beasts of burden that swim through sand like it is water.
  • Side Eye, a Hammerhead shark Rabbid and one of the bosses of the Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle DLC "DK Adventure" moves around by swimming into sand with only his fin poking out of the sand. Like, you know, sharks.
  • Super Metroid: In Maridia, when the Gravity Suit is acquired, water no longer renders Samus sluggish. However, flowing sand pits underwater still slow her down.
  • Any desert of the Monster Hunter franchise has at least one kind of monster that swims through sand, such as Cephalos, Delex, and Cephadrome, all of which can swim through sand like dolphins in water. And then there's Jhen Mohran and Dah'ren Mohran, two massive monsters who are fought in sand-sailing ships.
  • Nexus War has rivers of dust in the plane of Nifleheim. For gameplay purposes they're treated exactly like water. If you can't swim, you'll drown. If you can breathe water through mystical skill or magical potion, you can breathe dust too.
  • NieR has this in Facade and the desert in general. The sand-surfing mechanic returns in NieR: Automata, where 2B and 9S can surf down dunes like nobody's business — the latter even comments on how slippery the sand is when you first arrive in the desert region (which, if you do a certain archeology sidequest, is revealed to be located where Facade used to stand, thousands of years After the End).
  • Pokémon:
    • The temple in the Haruba Desert in Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia has a lot of sand that acts like water.
    • Taken to its logical conclusion with the Hippopotas, Sandile, and Gible families; Ground-type sand hippos, sand crocodiles, and sand sharks respectively.
  • Several enemies in the Ratchet & Clank series fit here. But the most appropriate is the 'sand shark' from the first game. Walking, chomping shark heads that pop up and try to eat you when you get close enough.
  • Fishing activity in Rune Factory 3 is extended into a desert. Fishes are seen swimming under the sand where you can see their shadow.
  • In Sands of Destruction, the entire world is basically composed of islands in the middle of an ocean of sand. There are some lakes and sea, but players would be given the impression of more sand.
  • Secret of Evermore has whirlpools in a sandy area just before the Bugmuck. Which suck you down and then.. spit you back up somewhere else. Weird.
  • In Shadow of the Colossus, there are two colossi that swim through sand. One essentially behaves like a large sand dwelling snake, whereas the other one actually flies, but when first encountered, is living in the sand, and breeches like a whale.
  • In Slime Rancher, there is an area called the Glass Desert, and surrounding it is a sea of sand that functions the same way as the Slime Sea as borders.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
  • Apparently, most Zerg units from StarCraft can swim through any material (including steel), not just sand, though they cannot actually move around when buried. This is likely for balance. In StarCraft II, this is handwaved by the Zerg being able to erode any material with millions of micro muscles, effectively making them semi-liquid. Don't think too hard about it.
  • Stella Glow: One of the field battles set in the desert features many elevations, some going by discrete increments and others forming a continuous slope. Visually, both kinds have their sand flow towards a sinkhole (the one where the characters always start the battle), but it's the slope which affects gameplay: In every turn that passes, a character who is placed in a tile within this slope will be dragged one step closer to the starting area (the sinkhole), which makes mobility difficult.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Super Mario 64 (The Trope Namer for Shifting Sand Land)
    • Another possibly ridiculous example from Mario Teaches Typing has Mario do the front stroke swimming through quick sand with a somewhat goofy expression.
    • Many subsequent Mario games use the same idea again, for instance Dry Dry Desert in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!.
    • 'Mario Kart 8'': Bone-Dry Dunes is surrounded by sand, with a crew of Toads on a pirate ship that throws coins onto the track.
    • Super Mario Galaxy 2: One part of the "Slipsand Galaxy" level has Mario navigate a large river of quicksand on top of a large bird-shaped raft while at the same time avoiding the cacti and Magikoopas dwelling in the quicksand.
    • Mario Party: Island Tour: In the minigame Pokey Corral, the characters stand onto an enormous geyser made of rising sand, though the top's surface has the sand flow away from the center. Due to this, the characters have to move in order to stay in the geyser's top and avoid falling down; some Pokeys rise from the geyser's interior, and being touched by one will stun the affected character, putting them at the risk of being dragged away. Lastly, the geyser's diameter will gradually shrink as well. The last player standing wins, though more than one can win if they resist for 60 seconds.
  • Once you've reached Hardmode in Terraria, new enemies will spawn, one of which being the Sand Sharks which will spawn during sandstorms. They're powerful enemies that can swim quickly through the sand and then lunge at the player.
  • Touhou Project's Moriya Suwako, a mountain goddess, can swim through the earth like water.
  • The Sea of Rust in Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a variant; it's still effectively a dust-ocean, but the "powder" that serves as a water-substitute is actually untold billions of tons of rust flakes, created when some unknown disaster corroded an entire continent-sized mass of Cybertron in a comparative instant.
  • One of the early areas in Xenogears involves a massive desert large enough to have ships "sailing" on it, along with gigantic unseen creatures such as "sand whales" and a "desert remora". The Cool Boat you get is one such sandships, which eventually upgrades to a sea vessel and an airship as the plot progresses. Some attention is actually paid to the technology needed to make the sand-sub work, which can make the scientific inaccuracy more or less egregious depending on the individual.
  • Mars in Warframe is home to desert skates, which swim in the sand and will attack Tenno and Grineer alike.
  • The Wild ARMs series has a few of these, which isn't surprising considering they all take place on the mostly-desert world of Filgaia.
    • The original had Sand River.
    • Wild ARMs 3 replaced all of the wet oceans with sand oceans. You even get a special boat to sail on these sand oceans later. There was an entire ecosystem living in the sand, mostly fish-like monsters and one Optional Boss Sand Worm.
    • In Wild ARMs 4, there is a sand inland sea, which, yes, has ships that sail on it. Somewhat subverted as people are able to stand on this "sandsea." On a cutscene at least.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Aladdin: The Series is a major user, including both Dune-like sand worms and a giant shark that could swim through the sand. The landshark was also hunted by a Captain Ahab Captain Ersatz who piloted a flying masted ship until it was killed by a tribe of Koala-like tribesmen.
  • Avatar:
    • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the nomadic tribes of the Earth Kingdom's Si Wong Desert specialize in manipulating the sand that surrounds them (other earthbenders can do little more with sand than make a few puffs of dust unless they practice diligently) so the water-like behaviour is justified, since it's derived from their mystical bending powers; consequentially, their movements are more akin to those of a waterbender. They apply this power to use small sand skiffs to sail around in.
    • In The Legend of Korra episode "Long Live the Earth Queen," Korra and Asami use a sand-ship to escape from a gigantic sand fish.
  • Ben 10: Omniverse: The Tetramand home planet has Sand Rippers, half-Land Shark half-Sand Worm creatures that swim through sand with a visible dorsal fin and gills.
  • In "The Sand Whale Strikes" episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog, the titular character is forced by Eustace's mother to hunt a sand whale, who is trying to get his accordion back from Eustace's mother. And Courage is forced to row a boat in the sand. Subverted in that the ground only worked like water for the sand whale, and not the rowboat.
  • Matt Hatter Chronicles: This happens frequently whenever the protagonists are in the Sea of Sand realm. Heck, even the realm's name lampshades the trope.
  • Thunder Cats 2011 has the Sand Sea in "Ramlak Rising," with waves, tides, storms, flying pirate ships and sea monsters great and small. Oases are reimagined as islands of water. Landlubbers are screwed either way.

    Real Life 
  • Oddly enough, there is an animal known as a "sandfish" which swims through sand - although it's a lizard, of course. Australia's Marsupial moles and the golden moles of Africa also sort of "swim" through sand as well. Presumably, this trick won't work well with larger animals (less thrust relative to surface area), so don't expect any real-life sand worms.
  • Genuine "sand-swimming" vertebrates still have to remain very close to the surface to avoid suffocation. Most only "swim" far enough to cover themselves with a thin dusting of sand, thus acquiring camouflage and shielding them from the desert sun.
  • The strange Kallar Dancing Frog was found to have tadpoles that, unlike most tadpoles that live in water, live in soil.
  • Interestingly, the sands of the Sahara actually does behave much like water, due to its extreme age and the resultant smoothness of the grains. Of course, that's only relative to other deserts and on a large scale (both area and time span). You still couldn't swim in Sahara sand, no matter how comparatively smooth the grains are.
  • If you get sand really loosely packed, it becomes dry quicksand. If you drop something in it, it will fall through the surface of the sand, and make a splash.
  • Some athletes will 'surf' on sand. However, the boards they use are snowboards that are HEAVILY waxed. Since rough snow is almost as abrasive as sand this is realistic.
  • Sand beaches, as well as dry lakebeds and salt flats, are favored terrain for the use of land yachts, as a fairly flat surface is needed for these lightweight wheeled vessels to remain stable.
  • In the era before CGI and color film, special effects were done using scale-models often used sand as an alternative to water due to the absurdly large relative size of water droplets to the models of ships, planes, etc.
  • In some areas in Pakistan, they cook chickpeas in a deep pan full of sand, using the sand to conduct and diffuse the heat; basically, boiling in sand.
  • Given enough sheer stress force, the ground can undergo what is known as liquefaction, where the ground behaves like a liquid.
  • One actually can have some fun with this trope as demonstrated here. If you're wondering, yes, you can scale this up to a point where you can actually swim in sand.
  • Interestingly enough, in most real-time fluid simulations (especially those used in games), the actual "fluid" is really just a mass of granular particles that act like this trope. You can see a video of it in action here.


Video Example(s):


Sand Rippers

Sometimes, alien planets can have shark-like fauna that swim through sand as fast as a car can drive.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / SandIsWater

Media sources: