That Sand You Brought Back From Vacation? Totally Illegal

Although it might seem tempting to pack a vial of sand from your favorite beach, it can be against the law, and it harms the environment.

That Sand You Brought Back From Vacation? Totally Illegal

It has been against the law to take sand from Sardinia, pictured here, since 2017.

Photo by travelwild/Shutterstock

Another day, another sand-stealing tourist: After taking 88 pounds of white sand from Sardinia, a French couple is facing up to six years in prison, reports CNN. The couple, who had been vacationing on the Italian island, were arrested after police discovered the sand in 14 bottles during safety and security checks of vehicles waiting to board a ferry to Toulon, France.

In 2017, a law went into effect, making it illegal to take sand, pebbles, or seashells from Sardinian beaches, reports the BBC. The couple told police they weren’t aware of the rule, but officials say beaches on the island have signs in multiple languages warning visitors that it is, in fact, against the law.

Stealing sand from the island is such a problem that there’s even a Facebook page—“Sardegna Rubata e Depredata,” or “Sardinia, Robbed and Plundered”—devoted to raising awareness of the issue. “During the last 20 years of activity we have seized tens and tens of tons of material. . . . Every year we take care to bring everything back to the places of origin at the end of the summer season,” said one of the page administrators, according to CNN.

Sardinia isn’t the only place plagued by sand-plundering vacationers: Stealing sand from Hawaii can earn you a fine of up to $100,000. And Crete’s “pink beach,” Elafonisi, had such a problem with visitors taking its pink sand that the government had to declare the area a nature reserve; as a result of the theft, the beach is much less vibrantly pink than it was decades ago. Bringing home anything from a beach or natural ground is illegal in Iceland, too.

It’s not only sand: Try to take coral from Thailand, and you’ll be fined hundreds of dollars. Even taking a rock from a U.S. national park is a big no-no. Why? Because governments say you can’t, sure, but also because over time, thousands of people taking what they want from nature can significantly alter landscapes and ecosystems.

In recent years, several regretful travelers who have taken something from nature have apologized and mailed back everything from lava to sand. Though this is done with the best intentions, experts point out that objects can come back contaminated, carrying pathogens and diseases that can put natural resources at risk once they’ve been returned.

No matter if you’ve taken something on a trip or just had a stronge urge to do so, going forward, it bears remembering the “leave no trace” principle, which encourages travelers to pick up their trash and leave things like rocks and wildflowers where they are. Take it from us—and buy some honey instead.

>> Next: 8 Easy Ways to Lessen Your Impact as a Traveler

Katherine LaGrave is a deputy editor at Afar focused on features and essays.
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