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“Please don’t deplete popcorn beach”, tourists are urged 

Tourists visiting a beautiful bay in the Canaries which has been nicknamed “popcorn beach” because of its unusual algae are being urged to respect the environment and not take handfuls away.

Council leaders in the municipality of La Oliva in Fuerteventura are so fed up with the situation at “playa del Hierro” that they are backing a major campaign to educate the public about the harm they are doing.

The 850 metre-long beach – which is accessed by a dirt track several kilometres away from the tourist town of Corralejo – was previously only known to windsurfers. However, its fame has spread so much that it now has its own Instagram site.

The “popcorn” is actually fossils called rhodolith, which have a great value to the marine ecosystem.

Experts estimate that about ten kilos of the “popcorn” is being “stolen” from the beach each month. That makes around 120 kilos per year, more than one ton in a decade, they point out. This, they say, hinders the natural process of formation of the future sandy beach.

The rhodolith are formed in the sea and only grow at one millimetre per year. Some measure up to 25 centimetres so have lived for 250 years.

The beach isn’t in a protected area but it is forbidden by Spain’s coastal law to take them away or any similar sand or stone. If caught, culprits can be fined.

The Mayor of La Oliva, Isaí Blanco said the local population had always taken small quantities of rhodolith to use as a decorative element in their homes but in recent years, with the gradual influx of hundreds of thousands of tourists to Fuerteventura, “it is now getting out of hand”.

“They are carrying them home in buckets,” said the Mayor.

The awareness campaign “Pass La Oliva without trace” is aimed at residents and visitors of a municipality that receives half a million tourists a year and where more than half of its 25,000 inhabitants are foreign.