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Reptile Dysfunction: Giant Lizards Choking On Condoms Left Behind By Tourists

Holidaymakers who use sand dunes for romps are destroying protected plant life and killing endangered lizards, officials say.

British and American tourists in the Canary Islands are having sex so often in a protected dune reserve that endemic vegetation is being destroyed and the island’s beloved giant lizards are choking on condoms, according to a new study.

The Maspalomas Dunes Nature Reserve in Gran Canaria, which receives around 14 million visitors a year, in the Spanish Canary Islands, is well known for its dune system and stunning golden sands.

Legally protected since 1982, Maspalomas is one of Europe’s last remaining dune systems and provides a resting place for birds migrating between Europe and Africa.

However, a study published in the Journal of Environmental Management suggests the protected area is being destroyed by randy tourists. “Cruising activities” are having an environmental impact on the coastal dune system, the study said.

Vegetation grows in the sand dunes on Dec. 4, 2020, in Maspalomas, Spain. The area’s vegetation has suffered from people trampling on native plants and establishing “sex spots,” researchers say. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Researchers identified 298 “sex spots” in an area of two square miles, mostly between “thick and dense vegetation” and nebkhas, dunes that form around vegetation. A “no-go” area in the nature reserve, considered completely off-limits to the public, had 56 sex spots.

Researchers studied the area beginning in May 2018, and the study period included the local Gay Pride festival the following month, a popular event in Gran Canaria that many members of the LGBTQ community attend.

The report said that cruising for sex led to the “trampling” of native plant species, three of which are endemic to the area, as well as “directly impacting” the nebkhas.

“We have no intention to criticize the actions of some of the LGBTI community,” said first author Leví García-Romero, from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC) Institute of Oceanography and Global Change.

Although the researchers noted that all kinds of people are capable of pleasure-seeking in the dunes, they said that cruising is practiced openly in Maspalomas.

The Maspalomas Gay Pride Parade on May 11, 2013, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain. (Jorge Rey/Getty Images)

Tourists displace plants and sand and make their own “nests,” which sometimes include makeshift fences, the report said. They often also leave their rubbish behind, including cigarette butts, condoms, toilet paper, wet wipes and cans.

The protected dunes have also served as a “bathroom” with human urine and excrement found in the affected areas.

Researchers learned that the more remote the sex spot, the more it had been used and the more trash it had.

The researchers also said a number of the island’s beloved Gran Canaria giant lizards (Gallotia stehlini) had died after eating condoms left by tourists.

Although the local authorities leave trash bags in some areas, they are usually full according to the researchers.

Maspalomas is not the only dune space in the world where people have sex, said study co-author Professor Patrick Hesp from Flinders University. Hesp also studies arid-zone coastal and inland dunefields in Australia, where sex spots can also be found.

“No matter what the human activity, popular coastal tourist locations need to closely monitor ecology and erosion trends,” Hesp said.

Edited by Richard Pretorius and Kristen Butler