Search on Instagram #popcornbeach and “popcorn beach.” You will see hundreds of photos, all taken on a beach north of Fuerteventura. An incredible beach has become viral on the net because it is covered with white popcorn instead of sand. Something unique in the world, right?
Well, no. I’m sorry to disappoint the influential Instagrammers. It’s not something unique, and it’s not popcorn. Nor is it coral white as claimed by the supposed understandings.
Rhodolith concentrations are common, calcareous structures of red algae that have nothing to do with coral. The difference is a lot: corals are colonies of bugs, and rhodoliths are concentrations of aquatic plants.
These coral algae make photosynthesis, like any plant. But instead of being green, they are mostly red.
Why are they round and white?
I’ll explain. Over the years, these plants accumulate calcium carbonate in their cells. They are spheroidal concentrations because they are not fixed to the rocks. However, they are left rocking on the seabed thanks to the impulse of the marine currents. It’s how they get their ball shape.
Little by little, they get together with each other. At first, they look like popcorn. However, some become real balls the size of those used in petanque. And altogether, they get to upholster the ocean floor. When they die, only their skeleton of white lime remains. The waves do the rest taking them out of the sea and accumulating them on the beaches.
Is it exclusive to Fuerteventura?
Neither Fuerteventura nor the Canary Islands. This type of rhodolith deposit is found in all the world’s oceans. They’re found everywhere, from the warm waters of the Caribbean to the colder waters of the Arctic.
Nor are they newly arrived invasive species. There are fossil rhodoliths from more than 55 million years ago.
What is it called in the Canary Islands?
On the beaches of the Canaries, these concentrations of rhodoliths are common. It’s particularly common in the easternmost islands, such as Lanzarote and Gran Canaria.
There they receive the popular name of candies because of the people from before. The small balls reminded them more of the sweet confections than popcorn. It’s those that godparents formerly gave at baptisms to children. A beach in the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is called El Confital precisely because it accumulates rhodoliths.
In the Canary Islands, there is no popcorn.
Popcorn is not a word commonly used in the archipelago. There they have two very different names. Threads are called in Gran Canaria and cotufas in Tenerife.
This last word has its grace. It seems to come directly from the English ” corn to fry “text that appeared in the first corn toasters. In the Canary Islands, it is known as “millo.” It’s a precious Portuguese loan. Fried corn snacks are called millitos.
I am going back to the Instagrammers and other tourists, a warning. Do not take the rhodoliths home. I understand that it is a very strong temptation. However, keep in mind that these calcareous concentrations are important for ecosystems.
When they are alive at the bottom of the sea, they are excellent shelters for the fauna and turn into excellent fish nurseries.
When they are dead, they degrade. Their white grains help shape the great pristine sands that we enjoy. It includes beautiful beaches like the major eras of Cotillo and Corralejo.