"Hyams Beach, NSW, has the world's whitest sand according to the Guinness World Records."
It's a claim that has been published repeatedly for decades. The Sydney Morning Herald refers to it as far back as 1987. And now, every few months, a major news publisher (including this one) or someone on social media picks up that tag and runs with it. No questions asked.
The only problem is, it's not true.
The tiny coastal town in New South Wales, near Jervis Bay, has become a victim of fake news and its own popularity. Home to only 100 people, the population swells into the thousands over the summer as tourists flock to this seaside village to see the "world's whitest sand" and take the perfect Instagram shot.
Sure, it's white – whiter than the sand at Bondi and St Kilda. But it's not the world's whitest – Hyams Beach is not even home to Australia's whitest sand. And to further debunk the myth, the Guinness World Records doesn't even have a "world's whitest sand" category.
So, where is the whitest beach?
It started as an afternoon banter over beers for Noel Schoknecht, soil scientist and former chairman of the National Committee on Soil and Terrain, to find the country's whitest beach.
A term of reference was then drafted and samples taken from beaches across the country. The samples had to be taken from the swash zone (the gently sloping area between the water and the dunes) and they could not be treated in any way apart from air-drying.
The winning beach was Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grand National Park on Western Australia's south coast. Followed by Hellfire Bay in WA, Tallebudgera Beach in Queensland, Whitehaven Beach in Queensland, Squeaky Beach in Victoria, Boat Harbour Beach in Tasmania, Hyams Beach in New South Wales, and Bromby Island in Northern Territory.
"I don't want to criticise Hyams Beach because it's an amazing beach, but it's not the whitest," Schoknecht told Traveller.
These samples are an indication that Australia has one of the world's "amazing beaches", he says, and we should look after them. "And it indicates we have a clean environment."
This news will come as a relief for Hyams Beach locals who have been fighting back against the droves of tourists flocking to one beach, clogging the narrow streets and leaving rubbish behind.
And their local council, Shoalhaven Shire, is on a mission to promote the other beaches, and the region as an off-peak tourism destination.
"The White Sands Coast of Jervis Bay in the Shoalhaven is home to 16 white sand beaches, all with equally beautiful sands," says Coralie Bell, the council's tourism manager.
"Shoalhaven Tourism has been working to increase visitation across off-season (from April to October) with campaigns like the 100-Beach Challenge, food and wine developments, and adventure campaigns, resulting in off-season growth of 43 per cent over the past three years."
At this stage, Western Australia is embracing the boom in tourism and tourists flocking to Lucky Bay, with its white sand, turquoise waters and beach-loving kangaroos.
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions – responsible for protecting Lucky Bay – says more than 180,000 people visited the beach last year and the department is well-equipped to deal with those numbers.
"DBCA uses a range of strategies to ensure that visitation and social carrying capacity is sustainable and that the underlying conservation, heritage values and sense of place of parks is protected and maintained," a spokeswoman said.
"These strategies include booking systems, demarketing, separation of uses in time and space, permits, access restrictions, seasonal closures, limiting length of stay and directing visitors to more resilient areas."
And businesses within the Shire of Esperance are reaping the rewards, reporting a significant increase in the number of visitors to the region last summer.
Shire president Cr Victoria Brown says: "It is fabulous to see that the town is bursting at the seams this summer season.
"Over the past few years, Esperance's profile has been lifted by social media. Pictures of pure white sand, friendly kangaroos and playful dolphins in the turquoise waters are sure to attract people to our beautiful part of the world."
But what makes sand white?
A number of factors.
The majority of sand comes from local rocks and shell fragments breaking down (also called weathering). Sand on the beach is mostly comprised of quartz (which is made up of silica) and organic material that has decayed and fragmented, such as corals, shells and skeletons of marine organisms.
Sand formed by quartz will be whiter than other types of sand.
"When the quartz was finer, the sand looked whiter. The less wave energy there is, you tend to get finer deposits," Schoknecht says.
"And sand tends to be white in arid areas where there are no rivers. Rivers bring organic material and mud into the ocean. At the bottom of the Yarra, you're not going to find a white beach."