Aug. 19 (UPI) -- A French couple could face up to six years in prison after allegedly stealing sand from an Italian beach.
Police found 90 pounds of sand from Chia beach in southern Sardinia inside 14 plastic bottles in the trunk of the couple's SUV as they were preparing to board a ferry to Toulon in southern France.
The couple told police they wanted to take the sand as a souvenir and weren't aware they were committing a crime.
They face a sentence of between one year and six years in jail for theft, with the aggravating circumstance of stealing an asset of public utility.
In 2017, Italy instituted a law making the trade of sand, pebbles and shells illegal with and punishable with fines of up to $3,000.
"When those responsible for these episodes are foreigners, it is difficult to collect the fines," Sardinia forest ranger chief Antonio Casula said.
Police said there has been an increase in the amount of sand, shells and other beach objects taken by tourists this summer with 10 tons seized at Olbia.
"Sandy beaches are one of the main attractions of Sardinia. There are two threats: one is due to erosion, which is partly natural and partly induced by the increasing sea level due to climate change; the second is sand stealing by tourists," environmental scientist Pierluigi Cocco told the BBC.