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Tourists stealing tonnes of pink sand

Protected: A land hermit grab inside a West Indian topshell (photo supplied)

Tourists have stolen tonnes of Bermuda’s trademark pink sand from beaches, The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has revealed.It is estimated air visitors alone take a total of about three tonnes of sand a year when they leave — more than the weight of three Kia Picanto cars.One report found that 222 pounds of sand, eight pounds of shells, four pounds of dead corals and a chunk of cave flowstone, hacked off the wall of a local cave, were recovered by customs officers at LF Wade International Airport over a two-week period.Those figures do not take into account items taken by cruise ship passengers.The department said: “Comments on social media indicate that part of the problem comes from local tour guides who are encouraging people to take sand.“Bermuda is not the only country encountering this issue. Theft of white beach sand and rocks from the Italian island of Sardinia is very common and it appears to be fuelled by a market for these items on the internet. “It is important to note that the importation of unsterilised sand and soil into the USA, as well as many other countries, including Bermuda, is prohibited because of the risk of spreading pathogenic bacteria, viruses, fungi and micro-invertebrates.”The department said all of Bermuda’s public beaches are either parks or nature reserves, which means that visitors are not allowed to remove anything including sand and rocks.Bermuda’s corals are also protected by law, and the Bermuda National Parks Act prohibits the taking of sea glass from any area zoned as a park or nature reserve.The department said: “There are a number of websites that promote the collection of sea glass from Bermuda, and some of the most popular locations are on private lands close to the Royal Naval Dockyard. “However, collectors need to respect any restrictions placed upon the areas they wish to visit. For example, the landowner of these popular beaches has allowed public access, but prohibits the taking of sand or glass.“The Department of Environment and Natural Resources asks that tour guides, the hospitality industry, and residents who have guests or customers visiting from overseas be acquainted with local laws governing the collection of keepsakes from the environment.”Alison Copeland, biodiversity officer with the department, also warned the public against removing protected shells from the island’s beaches. Ten types of shell are protected under the Fisheries (Protected Species) Order, in many cases because they are used by the island’s threatened land hermit crabs.Ms Copeland said: “The West Indian topshell is the favourite shell choice of land hermit crabs in Bermuda, and also one of the most commonly confiscated shells at our airport.“Just like souvenir collectors, crabs need unbroken shells free of cracks and holes.“In some areas, it may seem like there are many of these shells, and the taking of one should not be a big deal, but you need to know that the population of topshells you see are the result of nearly 40 years of careful conservation work.”Those convicted of taking protected shells can face up to two years in prison and a $25,000 fine.Ms Copeland added: “Instead of taking home the shells you find while beachcombing, why not practice low impact travel by taking photos instead? “By removing shells from the beach, you could be killing an animal or depriving a creature of its current or future home. You may also be breaking the law.”