It is an ongoing debate whether killing and collecting anything living is morally justified. Shell-collectors do not have a strong lobby against hobby-fishermen who feel there is a big difference between spearfishing a place empty and shell-collecting. Shell-collectors are in the focus of individuals and companies who feel that they have to do something for nature - mostly to overcome their own bad conscience. Unfortunately, their arguments are often based on poor knowledge and lack of deliberation. That collecting and dealing  seashells is ethical and ecologically acceptable can be appropriately ascertained by considering the following.

We all have to eat. Eating meat means killing animals. Being vegan still involves destruction of natural habitats for farmland. People making their living by catching fish, by producing crops or anything else we consume have a negative impact on natural resources, such as any job we do that involves using a car, electricity or a sheet of paper. Before criticising the activities of us shell-enthusiasts, kindly consider the following:

In the developing countries, e.g. Indonesia, the Philippines or throughout East Africa, where the shallow water shells come from, local people who now live on collecting specimen shells were formerly forced to carry out dynamite or cyanide fishing on the reefs to get by. The shell industry has opened new markets for them, and most have developed a genuine interest in protecting their sources for shells. In areas of heavy collecting but otherwise no impact on reefs by pollution orcyanide fishing, the populations of shells are stable (there have been studies to prove this - please feel free to contact us for further information). Even the most heavily collected tourist shells such as Monetaria moneta, annulus, Cypraea tigris and Cassis rufa are still very common throughout their distribution, except in those places where industry and agriculture have polluted the reefs.

All those who have a seawater fish tank, a pearl necklace, a chest made from tropical wood, etc. as well as those who spend their holidays in places like the Maldives are indirectly supporting massive destruction of reefs by cyanide fishing, the collecting of corals for the construction of bungalows, pearl farming and depletion of the rainforests, with masses of phosphates also washing into the sea as a result of soil erosion. Those who support the usage of Bio-diesel support the destruction of rain-forrests for plantatations of oil-palms (e.g. in Malaysia).

Dive- and even Eco- tourism in the Maldives, the Red Sea and many other places has caused more damage than meets the eye: divers are not necessarily actively destroying reefs, but the hotels they stay in exploit fossil freshwater resources (these hotels were not there before) and produce masses of garbage (those plastic mineral waterbottles wash ashore everywhere in the world and it is not the local population that buys them). Locations for tourism consume obscene amounts of diesel fuel to charge cylinders, keep generators and boats running etc etc, and in the end the accompanying waste is inevitably dumped somewhere, preferably on some other offshore reef, because financial pressures due to strong competition for the tourists prevent the appropriate ecological investment. 'Ecologically aware' tourism usually has a downside that is hidden to the tourist (again, there are plenty of studies to prove this).

All those who ever once ate a plate of shrimp have contributed to the destruction of reef and deep sea habitats, more so than any sensible shell collector. The gathering of 1 kg of Pacific shrimps entails the destruction of up to 50 kg of marine life, either by dragging it up, turning it upside down (by the chains which force the shrimps to jump into the nets that drift 20 cm over the sea bottom) or by causing deep water habitats to become polluted with nitrates that are stirred up by dredges. And what about those shrimps and fish from farms ? Well, let's see... what was there before the farm existed ? Mangrove and coral reef habitats that died once people started building that shrimp/fish farm, as a result of the fertilizers for the algae (used for food) and the antibiotics which this sort of venture takes. Note, by the way, that a lobster takes approximately seven years to grow up and 15 minutes to eat. A shell takes between a few months andtwo years to grow to adulthood and lasts for ever when treated properly.

Shell collectors accumulate material of high educational value. A shell collection that is well documented will last for generations, to educate, preserve knowledge, spread awareness of the wonders and fragility of nature, and give support to science. Most collectors' shells come up as by-catch from the fishing industry. Most experts for seashells are actually shell collectors; these days their specialized knowledge gained in following their passion is in great demand in biodiversity- and conservation projects.

What I am trying to demonstrate here is that there are lots of things that have a negative impact on natural resources, but shell-collecting and dealing with them is certainly not a serious threat to nature. It is generally agreed that a handful of people picking up shells could never seriously reduce a shell population. Ten specimens will escape the collector's attention before one is found (again, scientific studies are available to prove this point). Many specimens are left behind because of imperfections in their shells. However, hundreds of people walking across a reef at low tide, systematically picking up each and everything, may damage a place completely. Serious specimen shell collectors should point out their opposition to the commercial- and tourist-shell industry and behave accordingly: by restricting their collecting activities to the families they specialize in and to a moderate number of specimens suitable for and needed in their collection.

Hardly any shell population decline is due to human interference. Apparent cyclical fluctuations suddenly supporting quantities of previously rare species have been reported, as well as inexplicable declines of formerly abundant species. The exact reasons for these fluctuations are unknown. But, in cases where man is felt to be responsible, shell collectors can offer important information, pointing out situations in which populations are endangered by man. As long as the circumstances responsible for the decline have not been corrected and the population has not recovered, all measures should be taken to protect the shells. This is where the species-protection acts make sense, and no collector whom we supply would argue against them. If you have witnessed declines in populations of shells, please report them, as well as the circumstances that might have led to their decline, so that it may be ascertained whether shellcollectors could have been the cause. Dealing with such species can then be restricted to dead-taken material and old stocks.

Consideration of these simple thoughts should convince everybody that collecting seashells has a legitimate place in the world and within human society.


 To live in a purely 'ecologically appropriate' way means adopting the habits of our paleolithic forefathers:
to drink rainwater, protect our skins with mud and live exclusively on wild herbs and... roadkill.
© F. Lorenz 1999-2010