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
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 drink rainwater, protect our skins with mud and live exclusively on wild herbs and... roadkill.