International Travel

Joanita Wibowo

Tourists face jail time over sand theft

Tourists face jail time over sand theft

“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time” – this often heard phrase has become a rule of thumb while travelling, but some still could not resist the urge to bring a piece of paradise home from the holidays.

A French couple had to deal with the consequences as they are facing up to six years in prison for taking 40kg of sand from a beach in the Italian island of Sardinia.

14 plastic bottles containing around 40kg of white sand from a beach in Chia, southern Sardinia were seized from the car during routine checks, police said.

The couple, a man and a woman in their 40s, said they wanted to bring the sand home as a “souvenir” and did not realise they were committing a crime.

The Italian island’s white sand is protected as a public good, and tourists who remove it from the island are subject to fines of up to €3,000 and possible imprisonment.

Residents of the Mediterranean island have been protesting the theft of sand, stones and seashells by tourists, BBC reported.

“The people of Sardinia are very angry with tourists that steal shells and sand, because it's a theft [from] future generations that also puts at risk a delicate environment,” a police officer told CNN.

According to environmental scientist and Sardinian resident Pierluigi Cocco, there are two threats to the island’s sandy beaches. “One is due to erosion, which is partly natural and partly induced by the increasing sea level due to climate change; the second is sand stealing by tourists,” Cocco told the BBC.

"Only a fraction of the tourists visiting Sardinia spend their time digging up to 40kg of sand each. But if you multiply half that amount times 5 per cent of the one million tourists per year, in a few years that would contribute significantly to the reduction of beaches – the main reason why tourists are attracted by the island of Sardinia.”

In 1994, access to the famous pink beach on Budelli island off Sardinia were restricted over concerns about the degraded environment. In 2016, a woman who took the sand from the beach returned it after more than two decades. “I read in some newspapers and heard on the TV what this sand is and how it is made,” she said. “I understood how unique Sardinia is. I felt guilty.”