(CNN) — Italian police seized more than 200 pounds of sand, stones and shells stolen from Sardinian beaches last year, and fined dozens of tourists who took them as souvenirs.
Guardia di Finanza – Italy’s financial police – said in a statement that the items were returned to the beaches from which they were taken earlier this week.
The idyllic white sands of the Italian island are protected, and tourists face heavy fines and even jail time for removing them from local beaches.
Police said 41 people were fined for a spate of sand and shell thefts. Fines issued range from 500 to 3,000 euros ($600 to $3,650).
The statement said the seizures – totaling more than 100 kilograms (220 lb) – occurred “despite the significant drop in tourists on the island in the last summer season”, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement added that the police conducted periodic checks on departing passengers at Olbia Costa Smeralda Airport on the island, as well as at various e-commerce sites where sand is sold.
In 2017, a regional law was enacted making it illegal to take sand from Sardinia’s beaches. Regulations were introduced as accidents became more frequent and problematic.
The island watchdog told CNN last year that beaches with “amazing” colored, pink or very white sand are particularly vulnerable to targeting. “We found a website that sells our sand as souvenirs. It has become a very well-known phenomenon here in Europe,” she added.
In September 2020, a French tourist was ordered to pay a fine of 1,000 euros after trying to travel from Sardinia with more than four pounds of local sand in his luggage.
A French couple was threatened with imprisonment in 2019 after 14 plastic bottles containing about 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of white sand were found in their car while waiting to board the ferry.