Leaving messages in public places seems a strange thing to do, but I guess it has been going on for generations. You have only to look closely at ancient trees, park benches and public monuments to see those immortal words “John loves Jane”, or similar words, announcing to the world undying affection of a first love, latest love or indeed any other pertinent message.

I guess it is rather like the Stone Age equivalent of Facebook and Twitter, when personal (and often irrelevant) messages are declared to the world, when maybe they would be better kept to one’s self.

Speaking of messages, the good people on the island of Fuerteventura are getting a little annoyed with tourists who are following the latest craze of leaving messages with stones on beaches, and building small towers with stones.

The current problem is that tourists are no longer content to wander along the beautiful white, sandy beaches of Fuerteventura, but wish to leave their mark to those who follow. I guess you could call it the human equivalent of a dog ‘peeing on a lamppost’. 

These tourists who visit Fuerteventura carry out message or imaginative construction activities using stones to ensure that their presence does not go unnoticed, but which local experts describe as causing a destructive impact upon the ecosystem of these beautiful beaches.

One such area, Playa de Esquinzo in Fuerteventura, is just one example that was recently highlighted where the Tourist Board wants to raise awareness that their messaging and construction activities on beaches and coastal areas are destroying and damaging the landscape. Tourists on other Canary Islands are also adopting these stone message activities without considering how their actions affect delicately balanced ecosystems.

It seems that this modern-day equivalent of ‘peeing on a lamppost’ is not a new phenomenon. A Jewish friend recently told me that within the Jewish faith, it is customary to leave a small stone on a grave. A stone is placed by a visitor on the grave, but using only the left hand (don’t ask me why). The act of placing a stone on the grave serves as a sign to others that someone has visited the grave, and enables visitors to commemorate the burial and life of the deceased.

In this way, stones are used as an act of remembrance and a lasting reminder of the deceased’s life. Other historical accounts suggest that the tradition goes back to Biblical times when graves were simply marked with small stone mounds, because gravestones had not been invented. The mounds of stones helped to mark the location of the grave so that it could be found again in the future.

In addition to finding stone messages or small towers, beach walkers in the UK and US may come across a smooth pebble painted with a colourful picture of an animal or cartoon character, or simply a meaningful message. Pebble painting is yet another craze that appears to have originated in the United States and is beginning to find its way into Europe.

Amateur artists take part in painting pebbles and leaving them in public places for others to find. Brightly painted pebbles with messages and colourful patterns may be found nestling in sand dunes, on top of walls and gate posts.

Some parents regard it as a welcome pastime for their children, and encourage them to take a break from their smartphones and tablets, and collect stones and decorate them. Stone painting has become quite popular in some of the UK’s coastal resorts, and especially on beaches with plenty of smooth stones.

Sadly, council chiefs in the UK are not too happy with this idea, and often with good reason, as they say they pose a danger to elderly people who risk tripping over them and they are used by vandals to throw at ducks and scrawl the paint onto local war memorials. Parents are urged to be responsible and to show their children common sense when hiding these rocks, so that they don’t become problems for other people and the environment.

Meanwhile, back in the Canary Islands, tourism chiefs are hoping that tourists will continue to use and enjoy its beautiful beaches, but not to feel the urge to ‘dog mark’ by building stone towers or painting smooth stones for others to find. Indeed, this whole issue has left tourism chiefs in Fuerteventura with stony faces, so be warned.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at my websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read my latest book, ‘Letters from the Canary Islands’ and Spain’ (ISBN: 9780995602731). Available in paperback from Amazon, Waterstones and all good bookshops, as well as Kindle editions.

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© Barrie Mahoney