Beach in the Canary Islands has sand ‘made’ from 4,000-year-old popcorn

Playa del Bajo de la Burra, on the island of Fuerteventura, attracts visitors to the Spanish archipelago of the Canaries for a curious feature of its geological formation: the sand in the shape of popcorn.

The process of forming these structures is as interesting as their very presence at the seaside. They are actually fossils of red corals that washed ashore and mixed with volcanic ash — which gave the “popcorn” just the right tone so that it actually looked like the popped corn we eat at the movies.

According to tourism authorities in the Canary Islands, popcorn is technically known as rhodolitos. What does that mean? The Brazilian Institute of Oil, Gas and Biofuels explains that rhodolites are crusts of calcareous algae that have amalgamated with other organisms and formed these nodules.

Playa del Bajo de la Burra, also known as "popcorn beach"near Corralejo, Canary Islands - Maciej Grabowicz/Getty Images/iStockphoto - Maciej Grabowicz/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Image: Maciej Grabowicz/Getty Images/iStockphoto

“They grow under water about a millimeter a year, so if a particular section measures 25 centimeters, that means it’s been growing for 250 years,” the Spanish government’s website reports. There are rhodolites in the Canaries, experts estimate, which are more than 4,000 years old.

Very old, the phenomenon was “rediscovered” by tourists on social networks. Anyone who wants to visit Playa del Bajo de la Burra needs to take a one-hour hike from the center of Corralejo to the region, calculates the travel platform Ferry Hopper. It is also possible to arrive by car — from Puerto del Rosario, the journey takes 40 minutes.

Playa del Bajo de la Burra, also known as "popcorn beach"near Corralejo, in the Canary Islands - DPG Wilton/Getty Images/iStockphoto - DPG Wilton/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Image: DPG Wilton/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Despite encouraging tourism at “Praia da Pipoca”, the authorities of the Canary Islands urge visitors to respect the local ecosystem, as more than 10 kg of corals are taken from its coast every month by those who want a souvenir of the trip.

“If everyone removes some of the beach, soon the coast will be empty”, they recall. Biologist Francisco Otero explained to the newspaper “El País” that the corals in Playa del Bajo de la Burra absorb carbon dioxide while in the water and help fight climate change.

Playa del Bajo de la Burra, also known as "popcorn beach"near Corralejo, in the Canary Islands - Stefan_Alfonso/Getty Images/iStockphoto - Stefan_Alfonso/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Image: Stefan_Alfonso/Getty Images/iStockphoto

In addition, their cavities are used by marine species to lay eggs during the breeding season. Therefore, it is better to take a photo than to destroy this delicate balance.

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