Living in Florida, shells are a common collectible in most people’s homes. It is also very normal to see dozens of shell stores up and down the major local thoroughfares, especially in the more tourism driven areas. Shell collecting on the beach is a wholly acceptable act, when the creature that occupied it once has expired and the shell liberated naturally.
However, there is a side to shell collection that is extremely disturbing, when looked at on a larger scale. This would be the mass harvesting of sea animals for the shell and dried animal trade. This is the taking of live animals and killing them in bleach and then sending them through a foreign distributor to the U.S. tourism industry. What we end up with in Florida are exotic shells and dried seahorses and dried sea-stars from Southeast Asian countries,, some that have little or no regulation on the harvesting and collection of their own resources.
When shopping for seashells, one may come across conch of different species. If there is a hole drilled in the shell that looks fresh, chances are, it was collected and killed, possibly for meat and mainly for it’s shell. Around the world, conch species are under seige due to over-harvesting. The exotic shape and large size of the shells contribute to the desirability of conch, therefore, they are under significant pressure from harvesters who gather as much as can be gotten every year.
A common sight at department stores is a large cowry shell that has the weak tip drilled into and cut off. This kills the animal inside and then the broken tip is covered over with another snail shell to make it look decorative again. Only a trained eye can see the detail involved in making the shell look genuine again. How many get ruined and thrown away during the drilling phase of work?
Another sea animal under seige is the seahorse. These underwater beauties are harvested, dried and used for ‘medicinal’ purposes in Asian countries and are sold in tourist shops in the U.S. This industry is huge and has resulted in endangerments throughout their natural ranges. These issues are compounded by rising sea temperatures effecting the areas where these tiny, delicate animals need to survive.
The popularity of the shell outlets in Florida shows how few people actually see it as being a wrong thing simply because they perceive that the shells in these shops actually come from Florida. There is no information out there indicating that these items came from a nation halfway around the world with no environmental controls to curb the depletion of natural resources. Unfortunately, it is seriously detrimental to the future of these sea creatures and the habitats where they reside. If only the innocent tourists and ignorant shopkeepers really knew the true cost of the industry.