Quantcast

The Environmental Cost of Collecting Seashells

By Roberta Kwok

It's a normal part of summer vacation: head to the beach, pick up a few seashells and take them home as keepsakes. But multiply this innocent activity by millions of tourists and we might have a big problem, researchers warn in PLOS ONE. Skyrocketing numbers of beachcombers are pocketing seashells, and the environmental effects could range from increased erosion to fewer building materials for bird nests.


The number of shells from three major bivalve species found per beach transect in 1978-1981 (top) and 2008-2010 (bottom).

“[S]eashores remain among the most alluring tourist destinations," the authors write, and visitors often leave their mark by camping, driving and trampling on beaches. But few scientists have thought to investigate whether seashell collection might be destructive as well. These pretty beach tokens play an important role in ecosystems: algae take shelter in shells, birds use them to build nests and hermit crabs carry them as armor.

From 1978 to 1981, a research team surveyed seashells on Llarga Beach in Spain. So the authors of the current study returned to that site from 2008 to 2010, checking for the three most common bivalve species. In the intervening time, the beach hadn't seen many changes in urban development, fishing activity, weather, or waves—but the number of tourists had nearly tripled.

The number of seashells was almost three times lower in the second round of surveys, the team reports. From 1978-81, researchers spotted an average of 1,506 seashells per transect; in 2008-10, that fell to 578 seashells per transect. The team also collected records of tourist visits from town hall reports and nearby hotels. The more tourists arriving in the area in a given month, the fewer seashells the researchers found.

Seashell declines could be even worse at more popular beaches. “Llarga Beach is not a highest-tier tourist destination," the authors note, and its shells are “neither attractive to professional shell collectors nor spectacular enough to attract attention of every casual beachcomber."

Since tourist arrivals around the world have reached about one billion per year, the disappearance of seashells could be a global problem.

Visit EcoWatch's BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Children are forced to wear masks due to the toxic smoke from peat land fires in Indonesia. Aulia Erlangga / CIFOR

By Irene Banos Ruiz

Pediatricians in New Delhi, India, say children's lungs are no longer pink, but black.

Our warming planet is already impacting the health of the world's children and will shape the future of an entire generation if we fail to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F), the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report on health and climate change shows.

Read More Show Less
Private homes surround a 20 inch gas liquids pipeline which is part of the Mariner East II project on Oct. 5, 2017 in Marchwood, Penn. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

The FBI is looking into how the state of Pennsylvania granted permits for a controversial natural gas pipeline as part of a corruption investigation, the AP reports.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles. Carolina Wild Ones / Facebook

Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
The Dakota Access pipeline being built in Iowa. Carl Wycoff / CC BY 2.0

The fight between the Standing Rock Sioux and the owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline is back on, as the tribe opposes a pipeline expansion that it argues would increase the risk of an oil spill.

Read More Show Less
Scanning electron micrograph of Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague, on proventricular spines of a Xenopsylla cheopis flea. NIAID / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A middle-aged married couple in China was diagnosed with pneumonic plague, a highly infectious disease similar to bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe in the middle ages, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Milk made from almonds, oats and coconut are among the healthiest alternatives to cow's milk. triocean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dairy aisles have exploded with milk and milk alternative options over the past few years, and choosing the healthiest milk isn't just about the fat content.

Whether you're looking beyond cow's milk for health reasons or dietary preferences or simply want to experiment with different options, you may wonder which type of milk is healthiest for you.

Read More Show Less
Greta Thunberg stands aboard the catamaran La Vagabonde as she sets sail to Europe in Hampton, Virginia, on Nov. 13. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist whose weekly school strikes have spurred global demonstrations, has cut short her tour of the Americas and set sail for Europe to attend COP25 in Madrid next month, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
The Lake Delhi Dam in Iowa failed in 2010. VCU Capital News Service / Josh deBerge / FEMA

At least 1,688 dams across the U.S. are in such a hazardous condition that, if they fail, could force life-threatening floods on nearby homes, businesses, infrastructure or entire communities, according to an in-depth analysis of public records conducted by the the Associated Press.

Read More Show Less