A French couple who stole sand from their Italian beach vacation is facing up to six years in prison for their illegal souvenir.

The white sands of Sardinia have been under federal protection since 2017. Signs in multiple languages on Sardinian beaches warn visitors about the punishments for stealing sand, but that did not stop one couple from filling 14 plastic bottles with almost 90 pounds of sand last week.

The couple faces a maximum of six years in prison or a $3,330 fine (€3,000).

“The people of Sardinia are very angry with tourists that steal shells and sand, because it's a theft (from) future generations that also puts at risk a delicate environment," a local police officer told CNN.

Chia beach Italy
Credit: Getty Images

Police in the city of Porto Torres found the couple as they were waiting to board a ferry to southern France. Police apparently saw the plastic bottles through the window of the car and arrested the couple, both in their 40s.

Some visitors who are able to smuggle sand away from Sardinia sell their loot for a profit online, according to the BBC. Over the past 10 years, airport authorities have confiscated more than 10 tonnes of stolen sand, according to The Local Italy.

The French couple are far from the only tourists to steal protected mementos from their Italian vacation. In 2016, a woman who had stolen pink sand from Budelli, an island off Sardinia, sent it back after 29 years. In an apology letter she wrote, “I read in some newspapers and heard on the TV what this sand is and how it is made. I understood how unique Sardinia is. I felt guilty.”