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Letters Blog Letters Blog | Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

The Sands of Time

Most of us take sand for granted. Many of us hope that when we go on holiday, we will be able to enjoy a clean beach, with lots of golden sand. If we have deeper pockets, maybe we can head to one of those picture postcard Caribbean resorts offering white sand, or possibly somewhere even closer to home. I know of several beautiful, white sandy beaches in Scotland’s Hebridean Islands, although it is usually far too cold to enjoy them to the full. Another option is Spain’s Canary Islands, of course, which offer natural white sandy beaches in Fuerteventura, for instance. However, environmentally aware tourists should know than some of the gleaming white sandy beaches in Gran Canaria are not natural, since vast quantities of white sand have been imported from elsewhere, with an accompanying negative cost to the environment.

So what is sand? It is a natural material that has been created from finely ground rock particles. It varies according to its location and its source of rock in the area. Another type of sand has been created over billions of years from various life forms, such as shellfish and coral, as well as from eroded limestone; this is the type of sand that is mostly found in exotic places, such as the Caribbean. The sand on most of the Canary Islands is black, simply because the islands are volcanic in origin. Maybe it is not so nice to look at, but it fulfils broadly the same purpose when building sandcastles.

To the south of Gran Canaria are the Maspalomas Sand Dunes, which are spectacular two square kilometres of sand that originate from coral reefs; the area was declared a Natural Reserve in 1987. Over thousands of years, these have been crushed into fine golden grains of limestone through the grinding action of glaciers. Ocean currents drag the sand to the shore where the wind gathers it into huge and spectacular dunes. The sand is blown inland from the beach, where it accumulates around shrubs. The piles of sand eventually grow larger than the shrubs and gradually move across the field of dunes to create the incredible landscape that we currently enjoy. This is as an ongoing cycle and the reason why the landscape changes, albeit quite slowly, over time and from east to west.

Over the years, the area has become a tourist hotspot, and well known for the beauty of its dunes, as well as for the facilities provided by some of the best hotels in Spain. Sadly, the rapid building development in the area has changed the ongoing cycle of sand. The dunes are now hemmed in by large buildings; instead of the sand moving in a continuous every changing circle, the sand is now blown out to sea. As a result, the quantity of sand is reducing and the dunes are getting smaller. Indeed, it is suggested that within the next century, the dunes could disappear altogether.

Since the dunes are an important tourist attraction and create valuable business for the Canarian economy, plans are currently being discussed by the Island Government to replenish the sand on the dunes by taking it from offshore sandbanks, and before the sand is blown out to the deep water. This will be an expensive and time-consuming process, if it works. The only alternative is removing all the hotels and large buildings in the area, which I guess wouldn't go down too well with hoteliers and tourists alike.

We have yet another example where Island planning has failed to consider the forces of nature and the need to work with, rather than against, the environment; natural forces always have their way in the end. Maybe a few, smaller hotels built to sensible, low-level specifications, as on the Island of Lanzarote, would not have had the grotesque impact that the thousand bed monstrosities have had upon the local environment. Yes, the tourist capacity and income would be much reduced, but at least we would maintain the magnificence of the Maspalomas Sand Dunes.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to:

Shifting Sand

I’m all for a beautiful white, sandy beach; after all, it is the stuff of postcards, and the kind of image that one dreams about during those cold, wet and rainy days in the UK. I now live in a Gran Canarian village that can only offer black sand on its small, secluded beach. We live on a small volcanic island and the geology of the area dictates the colour of the sand. In contrast, the nearby Maspalomas Dunes, which offers a wonderful, ever changing landscape of shifting near-white sand, is again due to the geological make up of that part of the island. Sadly, not all beaches come supplied with white sand, and that is just the way it is.

We have recently returned from a visit to one of our favourite islands, Fuerteventura. Anyone who has visited this unique island will have noticed the many kilometres of brilliant white sand, set against a stunning blue sea and sky on the outskirts of the bustling tourist resort of Correlejo. This beautiful area is a protected natural park, and is a delight to the eye, as well as being a photographer’s paradise. In addition to admiring the white sand, tourists can also enjoy kite and wind surfing and all manner of seaborne activities. If all else fails, nothing beats an afternoon of relaxation well away from the crowds on a near deserted, beautiful beach.

The temptation to provide a white sandy beach to attract tourists is the reason why one of the powerful timeshare companies in Gran Canaria has decided to transform what some may see as a rather dull, pebbly traditional Canarian cove into one of white sand, no doubt to match the blue sea and sky that many holidaymakers dream about. Despite nearly 25 years of protests from locals and environmentalists, permission has finally been granted and the traditional pebbly beach has now been transformed into a gleaming mass of white sand, which has been paid for by the timeshare company.

The only problem with trying to create a white sandy beach close to this timeshare mecca is that there is no gleaming white sand available locally. Therefore, 70,000 tonnes of Saharan sand were purchased and imported from the Western Sahara. Sadly, it now appears that the sand was all but ‘stolen’ from the displaced people of the Western Sahara; the Sahawari people claim that they were not consulted, and that their natural resources were taken from them without compensation or their permission.

Recently, Saharawi representatives arrived in the Canary Islands to complain that the act of removing the sand was both illegal and criminal, since it belonged to the Saharawi people who were removed from the area by the Moroccan army after Spain abandoned its former colony some 40 years ago.

Environmentalists have consistently warned of the dangers of transporting sand from other regions, since it brings with it the risk of importing non-indigenous species of life into the area, with unknown and unforeseen consequences. We also know from similar experiments on the island that moving sand in this way has caused tortoises, turtles, lizards and many other creatures to be destroyed in the process of sucking up sand for transportation. Has anyone also considered the implications of shifting large quantities of ‘alien’ sand upon other environmentally sensitive areas along the coastline?

Meanwhile, the timeshare company has plans to develop the site even further by adding a marina and several hotels offering five-star quality with a combined capacity of around 7500 beds. These plans are accompanied by the usual fine words of promise to create more jobs and prosperity for local people, which in reality it rarely does in the long term, since profits are quickly sucked out of the islands and into the coffers of large international conglomerates. It is a project that is unashamedly designed to transform a natural area into a tourist mecca, which indeed it will.

In these times when the price of everything is fully costed, but true value is ignored, there seems to have been little consideration of the environmental costs and impact that such a development will cause. The planners and suits have spoken, so I guess that we will just have to get used to the wilful destruction of yet another part of our beautiful island, even though a white sandy beach does look rather pretty.

I’m just off to the black sand on our small village beach for a swim. It may be black, but at least I know that it is environmentally friendly.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to:

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