One of the most frequented beaches in Tenerife, Spain, is Playa de Las Teresitas, located in the Canary Islands. This hotspot, however, is far from a naturally occurring formation. Instead, it was meticulously crafted in the 1970s, using an impressive 270,000 tons of sand imported from Western Sahara.
Historically, Playa de Las Teresitas bore little resemblance to its current state, popular among tourists. It was primarily a rocky beach with black volcanic sand, and its waters were known for their harsh, dangerous waves. Being the nearest beach to Santa Cruz, it endured the brunt of the urban expansion, with construction companies slowly eroding away the beaches for their sand needs. The growing Port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife was also claiming more of the shoreline.
By 1953, the Santa Cruz City Council decided it was time to construct an artificial beach at Las Teresitas. After eight years of planning and a further four years of approval processes, construction began. The beach had to be defended from strong waves, requiring the construction of a substantial breakwater and the creation of a sea step to stop the water from carrying away the newly deposited sand. Sahara Desert sand was shipped over in large quantities, about 270,000 tons, to form a beach stretching 1.3 kilometers in length and 80 meters in width. When the beach was unveiled in 1973, it quickly garnered favor among locals and tourists.
In the Canary Islands, sand from Western Sahara is consistently imported for the purpose of beach rejuvenation and for large-scale construction projects. Regrettably, a significant amount of this sand is procured illegally.
ENACT Africa, an organization dedicated to battling transnational crime in Africa, reveals the impact of such practices. “The sand extraction brings multiple consequences for Western Sahara and its people. Economically, mainly Moroccan authorities and companies profit from this trade. Environmentally, extraction scars the landscape, eroding sensitive ecosystems, just as it does globally,” the organization explains.
Contrary to what many believe, sand is not an infinite resource. The world is rapidly depleting its reserves due to excessive construction demand. It’s estimated that 50 billion metric tons of sand are used worldwide every year, an amount sufficient to build a global wall of 88-feet-tall and 88-feet-wide.
Illegal sand mining is particularly damaging because it often targets beach and riverbed sand, not desert sand, which is too smooth to bind in concrete. This form of extraction poses a threat to biodiversity and leads to serious environmental risks, as evidenced by the progressive erosion of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
In response to the growing crisis, an increasing number of academics and activists are urging entities like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization to adopt stricter measures against sand mining.
Though Playa de Las Teresitas stands out in Tenerife as one of the rare beaches without the islands’ customary black, volcanic sand, it’s not the only artificial beach. Las Vistas, in Los Cristianos, is another man-made beach, while El Médano (the Dune) remains completely natural.
Playa de Las Teresitas is well-equipped for its visitors, boasting parking for over 100 vehicles, a bus service, a paddle area, bars, restaurants, and other facilities.
To reach Playa de las Teresitas from Santa Cruz, take the Avenida Marítima towards San Andrés. Follow the TF11 road, which runs parallel to the coast, until you reach the fishing village of San Andres, situated 7 kilometers from the heart of the capital. As you arrive in San Andrés, bypass the roundabout, continuing straight along the seaside road. Here, you’ll begin to see the vistas of Las Teresitas. Proceed along this road until you encounter a traffic light signaling a right turn. Take this detour, and you’ve arrived at your destination – Playa de las Teresitas.