Sex on the beach might be fun but it’s hurting sand dunes and wildlife, study finds
Researchers say vegetation is being removed to make sex ‘nests’ and that lizards are dying from eating the used condoms
Sun, surf, sand, sea — and public sex with strangers. These five Ss are a key part of tourism in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago west of Morocco. Unfortunately, what’s fun for humans can be bad for wildlife.
Our new research , released yesterday, found public sex — known as “cruising” — in the Canary Islands is leading to significant degradation of the Dunes of Maspalomas, one of Europe’s last naturally functioning transgressive dune fields (in other words, they move around).
These semi-vegetated and mobile dunes are one of the most popular sightseeing spots on Gran Canaria island, and are legally protected as a nature reserve. Unfortunately, they are being loved to death.
We studied almost 300 sex spots across the vegetated section of these dunes, and found damage to 10 plant species, including three endemic to dune areas.
When plants suffer, so do the animals and reptiles, with rare lizards and endemic plant species notably impacted.
We’re not calling for an end to public sex — but we do want people to be aware of the damage it can do.
We studied almost 300 sex spots across the vegetated section of the dunes, and found damage to 10 plant species
Before COVID, the Canary Islands was attracting up to 14 million tourists a year. Around 15 per cent of tourists are men drawn to the gay-friendly beach resorts, with the area also popular for lesbians and heterosexual swingers. Those interested in casual sex are likely to venture into the coastal dunes, seeking privacy and partners.
The impact of these visitors is, unfortunately, large and growing. We found that more than 62,000 square feet of the dunes has been totally altered by people seeking sex. These impacts have made it impossible for the area to be used as an environmental education centre for students.
Dumped cigarette butts and condoms have become a major problem, as has removal of vegetation to make “nests,” that is, sites for sex, and destruction due to trampling and track creation.
While there are sand-only dunes known as the little Sahara nearby, we found these are far less popular for sex spots compared to the vegetated dunes, which are home to more wildlife. And interestingly, the building of resorts nearby has changed the way the dunes move, and allowed more vegetation to grow in these areas. This, in turn, may have made cruising more popular.
Sex on the beach as an isolated activity is unlikely to damage the environment. The issue starts when a dune area becomes popular for casual sex and attracts hundreds of people a day. It’s similar to the impact of 4WD driving, which may have a relatively low impact on dune ecosystems if vehicle numbers are low, but leads to major erosion and habitat destruction when vehicle numbers are high.