Tourists Face Jail Time For Stealing Beach Sand
A couple caught with 40 kilograms of sand from one of Sardinia's pristine beaches is facing six years behind bars.
Border police found the famous white sand stashed in 14 plastic water bottles in the boot of the couple's car as they were about to board a ferry for Toulon, France.
They claim they took the sand as a souvenir, not to sell, and had no idea they had broken the law.
Now both are facing up to six years in prison.
Authorities launched a crackdown on theft after a number of people were caught with sand, pebbles and shells stuffed in their luggage over the European summer.
Many tourists bottle it up and sell it online despite signs clearly warning that it is illegal.
"Sandy beaches are one of the main attractions of Sardinia," local environmental scientist, Pierluigi Cocco, told the BBC.
"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," he said.
Under a 2017 law, trade in natural assets is illegal, and usually punishable with fines of close to AU$5,000.
But police struggle to apply the penalties because most of those caught red-handed are visitors.
“When those responsible for these episodes are foreigners, it is difficult to collect the fines,” Antonio Casula, the chief of Sardinia’s forest rangers, told La Stampa.
In August last year, a 40-year-old Italian man who lives in the UK was fined AU$1,600 after police caught him with a bottle of sand from Gallura beach on Sardinia's north coast.
But not all thieve sell the sand, some genuinely keep it as a souvenir, several have even returned it when they realised the act was illegal.
A man from Rome recently returned a bottle of sand he had stolen as a child to the mayor of Cabras, while a woman who took sand from Budelli, an island off Sardinia, returned it after 29 years.