Last summer, I was picking up beach trash and was asked by a tourist where all the seashells were? Where I live, there isn’t a lot of seashells, but as I walked, I started to remember 40 years ago, there seemed to be a lot more shells: starfish, butterfly clams, cowries, sea urchins and sand dollars. 50 years ago you could go pick abalone off the rocks at Bird Rock at low tide. Today you can rarely find sand dollars at low tide or maybe a starfish. So what happened to all the seashells?
There isn’t very many if any studies on the effects of shell collecting. The only one I could find was a study done over 30 years in Spain in which they found that the amount of seashells decreased 60% and tourism had increased to over 300%. The reasons for this can be any number of things, beach combing, overfishing, acidification, beach grooming and of course endangered species such as the Queen Conch and Giant Clam.
A seashell vendor in Tanzania sells to tourists seashells which have been taken from the sea alive, killing the animal inside. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Image: Wikipedia, Creative Commons Richard Ling
There are many uses for seashells aside from crafts. People use for hardscaping in their yards, jewelry, button, concrete and decor. Is that where all the seashells have gone? Is the use of seashells eco-friendly?
Most likely if you are picking up ‘dead’ shells from the beach, yes. If you are picking ‘live’ shells off the beach, dredging or buying from a store, it is likely you could be purchasing illegal seashells and promoting the death of marine life.
I Just Gotta Eco Ya:
Eight Tips To Eco Friendly Shell Collecting
There is an Illegal Seashell Trade. In particular Giant Clams, some Starfishes, Cowries, Queen Conches, Hawksbill Turtle are endangered. In fact harvesting of live endangered species off of reefs and ocean eco-systems is now covered under CITIES.
Bottom line, if you use the adage leave only a Footprint, shell collecting is a non-enity. But if you do aspire to have a few memories use the Eco Friendly Seashell collecting guide.