Two French tourists could face up to six years in prison after allegedly stealing 40kg (90 pounds) of sand from a beach in Sardinia.

 A French couple could face six years in prison for taking sand from a beach in Sardinia. Image by Shutterstock

If you’re thinking of taking a collection of sand home from the pristine beaches of Sardinia, think again. This week, two French tourists, who were about to board a ferry to Toulon, in France, from Porto Torres, were stopped by border police who found 40kg (90 pounds) of sand stored in plastic bottles in the couple’s car. The BBC reports that the tourists had been visiting Chia beach in the south of the Italian island, renowned for its peach-hued sand. The pair had told police that they had taken the sand as a souvenir and didn’t realise that they had committed an offence. 

 Tourists have been stealing sand and stuffing it into plastic bottles to take home with them. Image by Getty

Sand theft is a growing concern in Sardinia. It’s become such a widespread issue that police have been carrying out routine border checks to catch people smuggling sand out of the island. A law introduced in 2017 makes it illegal to trade in sand, pebbles and shells. Passengers who are caught face charges between €500 ($554) and €3000 ($3324) and could spend anywhere from one to six years in prison, as authorities crack down on an offence that has wreaked havoc on Sardinia’s ecosystem in recent years.  More than ten tonnes of sand have been collected in half-litre bottles over the last decade, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Ser. And police say there has been a “boom” this year with the theft of sand, shells and other natural beach articles. The culprits are usually tourists. 

A tourist recently returned sand that she had stolen pink sand from Budelli, off the north coast of Sardinia. Image by Getty

Earlier this month, L’Unione Sarda said a UK resident was fined more than €1000 when found in possession of a plastic bottle filled with sand taken from a beach near Olbia in the north of the island. But as awareness of the issue grows, some sand thieves have atoned for their sins. A man from Rome recently returned half a bottle of sand he had stolen as a child to the mayor of the coastal town of Cabras. In 2016, a woman who took sand from Budelli, an island off Sardinia that’s famous for its unique pink sand beach, returned it with a written apology after 29 years.

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