Italian police have seized more than 200 pounds of sand, stones and shells stolen from the beaches of Sardinia last year, dishing out fines to dozens of tourists who took them as souvenirs.
The items were returned to the beaches they were taken from earlier this week, the Guardia di Finanza – Italy’s finance police – said in a statement.
The Italian island’s idyllic white sand is protected, and tourists face hefty fines and even jail time for removing it from local beaches.
Police said 41 people had been fined in connection with the spate of sand and shell thefts; the penalties issued range from 500 to 3,000 euros ($600 to $3,650).
The seizures – totaling more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) – took place ”despite the significant decrease in the number of tourists on the island the past summer season” due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the statement said.
Police carried out regular checks on departing travelers at the island’s Olbia Costa Smeralda Airport, as well as on various e-commerce sites where the sand was being sold, they added.
In 2017, a regional law was introduced that made it illegal to take sand from Sardinia’s beaches. The regulations were introduced because incidents were becoming more frequent and increasingly problematic.
Beaches with “incredible” colored, pink or very white sand are particularly vulnerable to being targeted, the island’s Forest Rangers told CNN last year. “We found a website that was selling our sand as souvenirs. It’s become a very known phenomenon here in Europe,” he said.
In September 2020, a French tourist was ordered to pay a 1,000 euro fine after attempting to fly out of Sardinia with more than four pounds of local sand in his luggage.
A French couple was threatened with jail time in 2019 after 14 plastic bottles containing around 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of white sand were found in their car as they waited to board a ferry.