Lots of people like to collect specific things as souvenirs to remind them of their various trips. I buy Christmas ornaments (or something I can use as a Christmas ornament if they don’t sell those. Keyrings work well) from everywhere we go, so I can add them to our travel-themed Christmas tree. Some people buy shot glasses from places they’ve visited. My mother-in-law always liked to get collectible spoons and thimbles that were sold at different places.
Some people prefer to not buy things; they’ll go for the free stuff. So if they’re flying coach maybe they’ll take the paper napkin with their airline’s logo on it. World Business Class passengers on KLM are welcome to take a Delft Blue house with the airline’s compliments. Virgin Atlantic knew passengers were taking their cute little salt and pepper shakers that were shaped like planes, so there’s an inscription of “Pinched from Virgin Atlantic” on the bottom of each one of them (by the way, THIS is the WRONG WAY to take those little S&P shakers).
Other people take things from their hotel rooms. Say, a pen or a pad of paper with the hotel’s logo on it, or maybe even an unused facial soap; that’s all perfectly fine. Some people take much more than that; that’s not cool. Here are the items most often stolen from hotels and the nationalities of who steals what. Not sure of what’s OK or not OK to take from a hotel? Here’s a list.
But if they’re visiting or near a beach, lots of people like to take some sand home with them. After all, what’s a better memory of a beautiful beach than a little piece of it, right?
Don’t be so sure.
Taking sand from a beach is considered a crime in lots of places. It could land you a fine and/or even possibly jail time.
Why is it illegal? It’s just….sand
Beach Rangers, a blog about beaches, explains it best:
If every person who visited a beach took sand each time that they went it would become apparent that the sand at the beach is not exactly unlimited. Yes, it seems like there is a vast amount there and that it is always being replenished but that is not exactly true.
The sand isn’t replenished by the ocean it is recirculated. Sand consists of tiny particles that were once seashells, etc. It takes a very long time [edit from Sharon: thousands of years] for the sand to become sand.
If everyone were to take a little sand each time they visited the beach the amount of sand would be greatly diminished. It is for this reason that it is illegal to take sand from the beach.
More people nowadays also understand that sand is particularly precious because it’s disappearing naturally, thanks to erosion. As it is, billions are spent each year to replenish sand that’s washed away thanks to winds, waves and storms. So people taking sand away, just as a souvenir, just quickens the process.
Granted, there’s a difference between willfully collecting sand with the intent to bring it home, and inadvertently bringing a tiny amount home by mistake. I mean, no one is going to go to jail because they didn’t shake their flip-flops out very well and brought some sand home, loose, in their suitcase. But the reality is you could get yourself into some real trouble if you’re caught bringing sand home. Sometimes it’s based on the amount (read: don’t use heavy machinery to steal a large amount of sand), but other times it doesn’t even need to be very much.
Here are some examples:
- In 2018, Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, was fined $24k for stealing sand from a Florida beach (they denied the FDEP’s allegations and eventually settled).
- A man from Texas took a beer cup full of sand from Augusta National Golf Course during the Masters in 2012. He was handcuffed, arrested and sent to jail. The whole ordeal cost him about $20k.
- Theft of the beautiful pink sand from the Italian Island of Sardinia could cost you as much as $3,400, as of 2021 (if you take sand from elsewhere in Italy, your fine can be as much as $10,000! France also has high fines for stealing sand from their beaches).
- Hawaii is well known for its beautiful beaches. However heads up that since 2013, according to Hawaii Revised Statutes, Title 12 (Conservation and Resources) Section 171-58.5: “Prohibits the mining and taking of sand, dead coral or coral rubble, rocks, soil, or other marine deposits seaward from the shoreline or the shoreline area.’” Both state and federal laws protect Hawaii’s beaches and sand, and violators can be fined up to $100,000. Besides that, you could be subject to Pele’s Curse (The story goes that Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes, is very angry when she discovers people stealing her sacred material from her home. Remember when Bobby Brady took the Tiki in that episode of The Brady Bunch? Yup…)
- The state of Florida doesn’t have any state laws regarding taking sand. However just about every beachside city has its own laws and restrictions about taking sand. For example, the city of Clearwater explicitly bans sand removal in its municipal code. Similarly, the St. Augustine Beach Police Department also prohibits sand removal. If you take sand home from Destin, FL, it could cost you $500 or 60 days in jail.
What can you take instead?
Sand is nice, but it’s probably better to have another collection. What you’re allowed to take from a beach will vary from place to place. Check with the jurisdiction of the place you plan to visit, to be sure.
Seashells are beautiful and varied. SOME places allow you to take seashells as long as there’s no living organism inside them. Other places will fine you for stealing seashells, whether or not there’s something alive in them.
Like seashells, some places allow you to take rocks as souvenirs, some don’t.
Sea glass begins as bottles & glass that get tossed on the shore. When the glass is shattered, it’s smoothed out while it tumbles in the waves and saltwater. It’s a slow process; it can take anywhere from 7 to 20 or even upwards of 30 years in a constant surf environment for sea glass to “become” sea glass.
It’s illegal to collect sea glass from all beaches located in U.S. state parks. However, with the exception of Hawaii (like sand, never take sea glass from Hawaii) it’s usually legal to take sea glass from beaches in the U.S., if they’re not owned by the U.S. government.
Taking sea glass from other countries will vary per location.
Unless there are “No Photography” signs, taking photos is almost always allowed!
Keep as many memories as you’d like!
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Of course, there’s always water from Splash Mountain. Heard that’s going for a pretty penny.