Guilt-laden thief returns sand to Italy’s jewel…after 29 years

The uninhabited Budelli island, off Sardinia, is famous for its pink sandy beach, a beach which is now slightly sandier, thanks to a tourist who has seen the error of her ways - after 29 years.

Guilt-laden thief returns sand to Italy's jewel...after 29 years
Photo: Luca Giudicatti/Flickr

The woman stole a bag full of the unusually coloured grains during a holiday to Sardinia, from where you can take boat trips to Budelli's Pink Beach, in 1987, according to Il Resto del Carlino.

Now she has sent the sand back to its rightful place, along with a note explaining and apologizing for her actions.

Naming herself only as Antonella, she explained that shortly after her return home, she discovered how important the sand was.

“I read in some newspapers and heard on the TV what this sand is and how it is made, how it is a natural park,” the letter read. “I understood how unique Sardinia is. So I felt guilty and kept it hidden, always with the idea of returning it to the island.”

But the turning point which gave her the final push to send back the sand was the news last week of an initiative by a group of Piedmont schoolchildren, who have begun fundraising to buy the beach.

The children, from a middle school in in the Alpine province of Biella, say that if every Italian child pitches in €0.50 then they could club together to buy the island, which they would name ‘isola dei ragazzi’ (the children’s island).

They told La Stampa: “The message we want to convey is this: if all Italian school pupils donate €0.50 each we could raise the €3 million needed to win the next auction, which means this piece of heritage won’t fall into the hands of a stranger.”

The island has been at the centre of a legal battle for several years, after it was bought at auction by a New Zealand banker in 2013. He recently pulled out of the deal, despite winning an appeal after the government passed a law allowing the state to buy back the island.

Giuseppe Bonanno, president of the national park, is grateful for the sand's return.

“We thank Antonella for the choice she made in giving back this little bit of the Pink Beach to its natural habitat. It’s never too late to realize the importance of your own gestures for the maintenance of natural balance in an area. We also thank the children of Mosso because with their activism they raised awareness of looking after a natural beauty like the island of Budelli.”



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Theft of sand from Sardinia’s beaches on the rise again – despite fines of up to €3,000

With the return of mass tourism this summer came a new increase in the theft of sand, pebbles and shells from Sardinia’s protected beaches, environmental campaigners say.

Theft of sand from Sardinia’s beaches on the rise again - despite fines of up to €3,000
A beach in Sardinia's Porto San Paolo. Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP

A campaign group called ‘Sardegna rubata e depredata’ (Sardinia robbed and plundered) estimated that at least six tonnes of sand had been taken from the island’s beaches this year alone, mostly by foreign visitors.

In 2017, it became illegal to remove sand, shells and pebbles from Sardinia’s beaches as they were classed as protected resources. People breaking these rules face fines of between €500 and €3,000 – and anyone caught attempting to take larger quantities risks a prison term.

But it seems that many visitors haven’t got the message, as sand theft – and the number of fines being issued to those caught stealing – has risen again this summer with the return of international tourists.

READ ALSO: What is Italy doing to protect its coastline?

In July alone, customs officers at Sardinia’s Alghero airport seized 1.4 kilograms of sand from the island’s beaches during systematic bag searches, the Ansa news agency reported on Tuesday.

Items found in the possession of departing passengers at the airport last month reportedly included numerous plastic bottles filled with sand, 743 sea pebbles, 43 shells and a rock weighing 1.2 kg. 

All passengers caught with the illegal souvenirs were fined, police said.

Campaigners said most culprits are foreign tourists who usually “don’t really have a motive”. 

“Perhaps to arouse the envy of friends and relatives, or to recreate the feeling of the holiday in their living rooms, or even to decorate a home aquarium,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

“Some do it probably because there is such a sense of discomfort in having to leave the island. They try in a desperate way to take it with them, in their hands, instead of keeping the memories in the heart,” the group said.

In rarer cases, the motive for the theft appears to be profit – with reports in Italian media that bags of precious pink sand from Sardinia’s protected beaches are being sold online to “collectors”.

A couple of French tourists last year were caught trying to board a ferry with 40kg of sand in 14 large plastic bottles in the boot of their car.