ARRECIFE – In the Canary Islands, the type of souvenirs that tourists take from the island are especially harmful to the beaches. Holidaymakers seen with them at the airport get away with a warning.
If they are caught red-handed while putting their ‘souvenirs’ in their pocket or bag, they will receive a fine ranging from 150 to 600 euros. In most cases, it concerns lithic material, i.e. stones, rocks or sand. More than a tonne of this material is removed every year by visitors to the volcanic island of Lanzarote. The authorities on the island of La Graciosa also view the tourist hobby with dismay. A hobby that damages nature on the islands.
The appropriated materials are often seized during checks at César Manrique airport. However, in such cases, violators are usually not fined because it is difficult to prove that the materials were taken from protected areas. Only in exceptional cases, when offenders are caught red-handed, will they be fined by the Cabildo Environmental Service. The fines for these violations range from minor offenses (from 150 to 600 euros) to serious (600 to 3,000 euros), with very serious violations occurring less often.
Reuse of materials
The confiscated natural elements are taken to the Máguez Nursery. Because their origin is often unknown, these souvenirs cannot be returned to their natural environment. The materials are then used in public works, such as the construction of gardens around the airport terminal.
Lack of environmental watchmen
Lanzarote and the Chinijo Archipelago have only eight environmental rangers. In addition to preventing the theft of natural elements, they are also responsible for supervising hunting and fishing on the island. Moreover, they also control sea excursions to the small islands. According to Reinero Brandon Fernandez, head of the Environmental Service and coordinator of the Geopark of Lanzarote and the Chinijo Archipelago, the current workforce would have to at least double to effectively carry out all tasks.
“The Environment Department is doing what it can. However, it is seriously understaffed, both in terms of staff and budget.” As was emphasized by the coordinator of the Geopark in La Voz de Lanzarote. He points out that the expenditure of the Lanzarote Tourism Department on the FITUR fair “is equivalent to the annual budget of the Environment Department, while tourism depends on the environment because tourists come to explore the protected natural areas and landscape of Lanzarote to see.”
According to Brandon Fernandez, it would almost be necessary to “put a police officer with every tourist” to prevent the theft of natural elements as souvenirs. That is why he emphasizes the importance of awareness campaigns. The Environment Department is currently working on an agreement to communicate the fragility of the environment and the possible fines to tourists at both terminals of César Manrique Airport.
Pass without a stamp
The department has also contacted the Telesforo Foundation, based in Tenerife. This foundation has developed the ‘Pasa Sin Huella’ project (pass without a stamp). The Cabildo of Lanzarote wants to adapt this campaingn. These campaigns will also include educational presentations in schools and hotels to raise awareness among locals and tourists alike.