Gran Canaria tourists could face large fines and even prison for carving messages on protected beaches – so large they can be seen on Google Maps

Environmentalists have slammed visitors after a number of them wrote their names and other symbols on the sand dunes in Maspalomas.

The sand dunes are within a special nature reserve with a high degree of protection and are considered one of the most iconic ecosystems of Gran Canaria, covering around 1,000 acres.

Experts say that unless something is done, their natural beauty is in danger of being lost for ever.

Police have found huge stone crosses made from the volcanic stones, stone circles, carvings in the ground, graffiti on stones, giant hearts and even faces carved into the rocks as in Hollywood.

All the actions are illegal and are punishable with fines and even prison if the culprits are caught.

The campaigning group Telesforo Bravo-Juan Coello Foundation has been inundated with photos and messages on its social network, alerting the experts to the damage which is being caused to the environment and backing its campaign for tougher action.

They say love messages in the Maspalomas sand dunes, together with dozens of footprints and initials, are so huge that they are visible from space in pictures taken by Google Maps and have affected the landscape.

Environmentalists believe tourists are to blame as they are taking selfies with their "works of art".

In some of the cases, it is believed foreign tour guides may have daubed protected stones with red paint to mark the routes of walks "because of their ignorance".

The volcanic rocks are very porous and the paint is very difficult to remove.

The Foundation says this is "abuse to the environment" and is launching an educational campaign first before calling for increased sanctions and more patrols.

Furious supporters of the group say visitors arriving at the airports in the Canaries should be given leaflets warning against such damage instead of tourist maps of the island.

Another suggestion is to hand them information on the flights half an hour before landing.

In Tenerife, the island's government says it won't tolerate such damage in its protected parks, including around the Teide volcano, and is reporting all incidents to the police.

They say culprits will be fined up to €600 (£525) as well as being told to pay the cost of the restoration work.

A spokesperson said: "The Cabildo of Tenerife wants to express its condemnation towards this type of act against one of the main environmental and tourist patrimonies of the island.

"It also appreciates the collaboration of citizens and points out the importance of notifying the staff of the Teide National Park in case of witnessing this type of incident – indicating the location as accurately as possible – to act and take appropriate measures."

A small island in the Canaries is seeking other measures to prevent tourists from damaging the local habitat.

Lobos Island has increased in popularity in recent years with weekends seeing up to 2,000 visitors a day.

Anyone who wants to visit the islands must now seek written permission before being allowed to set foot on it.

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