Local authorities responsible for coastal protection in the region seized a plastic bottle from the unnamed man containing fine sand at Elmas Airport.
The Italian island’s white-sand beaches are highly protected, with harsh penalties for those who try to remove any sand – from one to six years in jail for theft with the aggravating circumstance of having stolen an asset of public utility.
“These behaviours not only harm the environment but also compromise the maintenance of the coastline for the sustainable development of tourism in Sardinia,” stated a press release on Thursday, quoted by local media.
The Italian island’s sandy beaches are a major draw for visitors, and are under threat from both erosion and tourists removing the sand.
It’s not the first time a tourist has been caught red-handed.
A French couple caught with 14 plastic bottles full of sand, weighing 40kg, in the boot of their car, last August faced a possible prison sentence of up to six years.
The problem isn’t confined to the Italian island, however.
In Hawaii, removing sand from any beach is punishable by fines up $100,000 (£75,000).
And, on the Greek island of Skiathos, local authorities introduced fines of up to £850 in 2018 following a spate of pebble theft on Lalaria Beach.
The Cultural Association and Skiathos Port Authority launched an awareness campaign urging visitors to “take a picture, not a pebble” of the signature white stones.
Closer to home, offenders found guilty of removing stones from public beaches in the UK can face fines of up to £1,000 under the Coastal Protection Act 1949.
A global shortage of sand has prompted violent gangs to steal vast quantities from rivers, beaches and even small islands.
Growing urbanisation has led to an overwhelming demand for sand in construction purposes and glass, a process which desert sand is unsuitable for.
In an article for The New York Times, Vince Beiser, author of The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization said: “Sand is the essential ingredient that makes modern life possible. And we are starting to run out.”