Used Condoms From 'Cruising' Tourists are Killing Giant Lizards on Spanish Beach

Some vacationers' "adult" activities are interfering with the wellbeing of the Canary Islands' natural species and habitat, said researchers.

The new study, published in the Journal of Environmental Management's January 2022 issue, examined the impact of public sexual activity on the "protected coastal dunefield" of Gran Canaria, one of Spain's Canary Islands—and what they found suggested that "what's fun for humans can be bad for wildlife."

Specifically, researchers looked at the practice of "cruising" in the region, where individuals seek partners and perform sexual acts in public spaces. On the Dunes of Maspalomas, which is legally protected as a nature reserve, researchers said that cruising activity is causing "significant degradation" to the environment.

Explained study co-author Patrick Hesp in The Conversation: "We studied almost 300 sex spots across the vegetated section of these dunes, and found damage to 10 plant species, including three endemic to dune areas."

"When plants suffer, so do the animals and reptiles, with rare lizards and endemic plant species notably impacted," he added.

In particular, their findings indicated that "jellyfish-eating Gran Canary giant lizards [Gallotia stehlini] have died after eating condoms left behind by pleasure seekers." The species is endemic and exclusively lives on the island, reported Gran Canaria Info. They can grow up to 80 centimeters in length (about 31.5 inches), making them the "largest true lizards" on the globe.

However, the species is known for its voracious appetite—a trait that may be contributing to its consumption of used condoms. "Giant Gran Canaria lizards will eat pretty much anything from insects to carrion," noted Gran Canaria Info. "Chuck a slice of tomato or banana at a lizard in Gran Canaria and there is a good chance it'll run over and eat it."

The lizards are also "heavily protected by law." Explained the tourism guide: "It is illegal to kill or harm them, and even to catch them."

Gran Canaria
Researchers said that cruising activity is causing "significant degradation" to the environment on the island of Gran Canaria in Spain. Sand dunes on the island of Gran Canaria, 2000. Mariana Silvia Eliano/Cover/Getty Images

Other issues observed by the researchers included damage to rare and native plant species, which are "trampled" and "cut" to create "semi-private [spaces]" in the dunes.

"The rare plants are the first ones to disappear. Soon, you lose connectivity for animals...The whole ecosystem starts to fragment into isolated islands, which can eventually destabilize the ecosystem as a whole," explained Hesp.

While the researchers did clarify that "sex on the beach as an isolated activity is unlikely to damage the environment," they explained that the issues come when an area attracts hundreds of individuals per day, as does Gran Canaria.

According to Hesp, the region attracted up to 14 million visitors per year, pre-COVID, many of whom were "men drawn to the gay-friendly beach resorts." Additionally, "the area [was] also popular for lesbians and heterosexual swingers."

The study found that "5,800 square metres of the dunes has been totally altered by people seeking sex." These alterations include the discarded condoms, cigarette butts, and the removal of vegetation to make "nests."

The research draws attention to the increasingly urgent issue, prompting local resorts and governmental bodies to aid in future cleanups. "We're not calling for an end to public sex," noted Hesp, "but we do want people to be aware of the damage it can do."