A French couple who allegedly stole 40kg (6.3 stone) of sand from a Sardinian beach could face up to six years in prison.
The couple were visiting the autonomous region of Italy when they said they wanted to take the sand home as a ‘souvenir,’ but claim they did not realise they had committed an offence.
It is strictly forbidden to remove Sardinia’s white sand, which is considered a public good, from the island although authorities say there has been a ‘boom’ in thefts this year.
The couple were caught by border police as they attempted to board a ferry from Porto Torres to Toulon, in southern France, The Guardian reports.
Authorities found the white sand, which had allegedly been taken from Chia beach in the south of the Italian island, stashed into 14 large plastic bottles in the boot of the couple’s SUV.
They now face between one and six years in prison for theft, as authorities attempt to crack down on the issue which has angered local residents for years.
Despite signposts clearly warning visitors it is forbidden to take the sand, as well as vigilantes patrolling the beaches, many tourists are unaware of the seriousness of the offence and so take it anyway.
As reported by the BBC, the trade in sand, pebbles, and shells in Sardinia is illegal under a 2017 law, and is usually punishable with fines of up to €3,000 (approximately £2,750).
However, because most of the culprits are visitors to the island, police often struggle to apply the penalties. The chief of Sardinia’s forest rangers, Antonio Casula, told La Stampa, as per The Guardian, the incidents were becoming more frequent, adding: ‘When those responsible for these episodes are foreigners, it is difficult to collect the fines’.
When it is stolen, the sand is usually placed in plastic bottles or bags before being labelled with the name of the beach from which it was taken. It is then usually auctioned online.
Although the practice seems harmless, taking the sand could have a disproportionate impact on the environment, with Pierluigi Cocco, a Sardinian resident and environmental scientist, telling the BBC such theft is a ‘threat’.
Sandy beaches are one of the main attractions of Sardinia. There are two threats: 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.
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.
While six years might seem like an unusually long sentence for the theft of sand, the couple also face the aggravating circumstance of having stolen an asset of public utility.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).