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

A vegan diet can improve your health, but experts say it's important to keep track of nutrients and protein. Getty Images

By Dan Gray

  • Research shows that 16 weeks of a vegan diet can boost the gut microbiome, helping with weight loss and overall health.
  • A healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome. A plant-based diet is the best way to achieve this.
  • It isn't necessary to opt for a strictly vegan diet, but it's beneficial to limit meat intake.

New research shows that following a vegan diet for about 4 months can boost your gut microbiome. In turn, that can lead to improvements in body weight and blood sugar management.

Read More Show Less
Students gathered at the National Mall in Washington DC, Sept. 20. NRDC

By Jeff Turrentine

Nearly 20 years have passed since the journalist Malcolm Gladwell popularized the term tipping point, in his best-selling book of the same name. The phrase denotes the moment that a certain idea, behavior, or practice catches on exponentially and gains widespread currency throughout a culture. Having transcended its roots in sociological theory, the tipping point is now part of our everyday vernacular. We use it in scientific contexts to describe, for instance, the climatological point of no return that we'll hit if we allow average global temperatures to rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. But we also use it to describe everything from resistance movements to the disenchantment of hockey fans when their team is on a losing streak.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
samael334 / iStock / Getty Images

By Ruairi Robertson, PhD

Berries are small, soft, round fruit of various colors — mainly blue, red, or purple.

Read More Show Less
A glacier is seen in the Kenai Mountains on Sept. 6, near Primrose, Alaska. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying the glaciers in the area since 1966 and their studies show that the warming climate has resulted in sustained glacial mass loss as melting outpaced the accumulation of new snow and ice. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Mark Mancini

On Aug. 18, Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change. The deceased party was Okjökull, a historic body of ice that covered 14.6 square miles (38 square kilometers) in the Icelandic Highlands at the turn of the 20th century. But its glory days are long gone. In 2014, having dwindled to less than 1/15 its former size, Okjökull lost its status as an official glacier.

Read More Show Less
Members of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America table at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18. Alex Schwartz

By Alex Schwartz

Among the many vendors at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18 sat three young people peddling neither organic vegetables, gourmet cheese nor handmade crafts. Instead, they offered liberation from capitalism.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
StephanieFrey / iStock / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Muffins are a popular, sweet treat.

Read More Show Less
Hackney primary school students went to the Town Hall on May 24 in London after school to protest about the climate emergency. Jenny Matthews / In Pictures / Getty Images

By Caroline Hickman

Eco-anxiety is likely to affect more and more people as the climate destabilizes. Already, studies have found that 45 percent of children suffer lasting depression after surviving extreme weather and natural disasters. Some of that emotional turmoil must stem from confusion — why aren't adults doing more to stop climate change?

Read More Show Less
Myrtle warbler. Gillfoto / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bird watching in the U.S. may be a lot harder than it once was, since bird populations are dropping off in droves, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less