A pair of tourists face up to six years in prison after allegedly stealing a large quantity of sand from the pristine beaches of Sardinia.

The French couple were found to have nearly 40kg (90lb) of fine white sand in the boot of their car.

The vehicle was stopped during a routine check by border police as the tourists were preparing to board a ferry in Porto Torres, on the north coast of the island, bound for Toulon in France.

The sand was found in 14 large plastic bottles and had been taken from a beach near Chia in southern Sardinia.

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The couple told police that they had no idea they were breaking the law, but they now face between one and six years in jail.

La Pelosa Tower: To stop pillaging, locals have taken on the role of beach guardians. Photo / Enrico Spanu, Getty Images
La Pelosa Tower: To stop pillaging, locals have taken on the role of beach guardians. Photo / Enrico Spanu, Getty Images

The island has battled for years to stop tourists from pinching its sand, shells and pebbles, which are prized as souvenirs or in some cases, for indoor aquariums.

To try to stop the pillaging, some locals have taken on the role of self-appointed guardians of the beaches.

If they see tourists taking sand or shells, they ask them to return the material. If that does not work, they call the police or national park rangers.

One of them, Pina Careddu, told an Italian newspaper on Monday that visitors sometimes become rude and aggressive when challenged.

Beach Thieves: The WWF has supported a program to stop tourists taking home sand. Photo / Supplied
Beach Thieves: The WWF has supported a program to stop tourists taking home sand. Photo / Supplied

"A family of Germans were filling up some bottles with sand. I recorded them on my phone so they couldn't deny it. The father came towards me in a threatening manner. But in the end he tipped the sand back onto the beach," Mrs Careddu, 58, told Corriere della Sera.

Dubbed "the granny sheriff" of the Sinis peninsula, on the west coast of the island, she is strict even with her grandchildren. "They say, 'Nana, can't we take some pebbles home to play with?' And I say no, if everyone did that, soon there would be no beach left."

- The Telegraph Group

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