Playa de Las Teresitas: A European Beach Made From Saharan Sand

Jun 2, 2023 0 comments

Playa de Las Teresitas in Tenerife, Spain, is one of the most popular beaches of the Canary Islands, but the beach is not natural—it was created in the 1970s by importing 270,000 tons of sand from Western Sahara.

Playa de Las Teresitas was very different from the beach that tourists are used to today. In the past it was a beach of pebbles and black volcanic sand and its waters were not calm as they are now. It was a very dangerous beach, where the water hit the stones hard. But it was the only beach closest to Santa Cruz. The rest were slowly disappearing away as construction companies harvested sand from the beaches. The Port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife was also encroaching upon the shoreline.

Credit: vil.sandi/Flickr

In 1953, the Santa Cruz City Council decided to construct an artificial beach in Las Teresitas. It took eight years to come up with a design and another four years to get it approved by the council and the Spanish ministry. The first step that was taken was to protect the beach from the strong waves, for which a large breakwater was built. A step was also cut into the sea to prevent the water from dragging away the sand that would later be poured over Las Teresitas. White sand was brought in from the Sahara Desert—around 270,000 tons—and was used to create a beach 1.3 kilometers long and 80 meters wide. The beach opened in 1973, and soon it became the favorite destination for locals and tourists alike.

Also read: Paris Plages: The Artificial Beaches of Paris

Credit: dronepicr/Flickr

Credit: dronepicr/Flickr

Credit: StarExcursions/Flickr

Sand is regularly imported from Western Sahara by Canary Islands to rebuild beaches and also for use in large-scale construction. Unfortunately, a large proportion of this import takes place illegally.

“This sand extraction has numerous consequences for Western Sahara and its people,” explains ENACT Africa, an organization that fights transnational crime in Africa. “Economically, it is primarily the Moroccan authorities and companies who benefit from this trade. Environmentally, such extraction disfigures the landscape, as it does elsewhere in the world, and erodes sensitive ecologies.”

Although it may not seem so, sand is a limited resource and the world is apparently running out of it because of the sheer amount of the material that is being used by people for construction. According to one estimate, the world uses 50 billion metric tons of sand annually—enough to build an 88-foot-tall, 88-foot-wide wall around the world.

What makes sand mining destructive is that many illegal operators steal sand from the beach and river beds, rather than from the desert because desert sand is too smooth to be used as a binder in concrete. Sand extraction from sensitive areas distresses biodiversity and creates additional environmental risks, such as the slow disappearance of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.

In recent years, a growing number of activists and academics are calling for the United Nations and the World Trade Organization to do more to limit the damage caused by sand mining.


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