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Search on Instagram #popcornbeach, popcorn beach. You will see hundreds of photos, all made on a beach in the north of Fuerteventura. An incredible beach that has become viral on the net, because instead of sand it is covered with very white popcorn . Something unique in the world, right?
Well, no. I’m sorry to disappoint the influential instagramers , but it’s not something unique and it’s not popcorn. Neither 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 but they are left rocking on the seabed thanks to the impulse of the marine currents, hence their ball shape.
Little by little they get together with each other. At first they look like popcorn , but some become real balls the size of those used in petanque . And all together 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 deposits are found in all the oceans of the world , 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, especially in the easternmost islands such as Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria.
There they receive the popular name of candies , because to the people from before the small balls reminded them more of the sweet confections (those that formerly godparents gave at baptisms to children) than popcorn. A beach in the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is called El Confital precisely because of its accumulations of rhodoliths.
In the Canary Islands there are 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 that, by the way, in the Canary Islands is known as millo, a precious Portuguese loan. In fact, fried corn snacks are called millitos .
Going back to the instagramers and other tourists, a warning: do not take the rhodoliths home . I understand that it is a very strong temptation, but keep in mind that these calcareous concentrations are very important for ecosystems.
When they are alive at the bottom of the sea they are excellent shelters for the fauna, turned into excellent nurseries for the fish.
When they are dead they degrade and their white grains help to shape the wonderful pristine sands that we enjoy so much in beautiful beaches like the majoreras of Cotillo, Majanicho and Corralejo.