Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

The Environmental Cost of Collecting Seashells

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.

Landmark legislation aims to address the ocean impacts of human-caused global heating and reform federal ocean management. ToryYu1989 / PxHere / CC0

By Jessica Corbett

Leaders of climate and conservation groups on Tuesday welcomed House Democrats' introduction of landmark legislation that aims to address the ocean impacts of human-caused global heating and reform federal ocean management—recognizing that, as Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva put it, "a healthy ocean is key to fighting the climate crisis."

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Markers of remembrance at a Massachusetts care home that saw a major coronavirus outbreak. Barry Chin / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Almost 300,000 more Americans have died during the first ten months of the coronavirus pandemic than would be expected in an average year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Tuesday.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?

Read More Show Less
A federal judge in Washington, D.C. struck down the Trump administration's proposed changes to the SNAP benefits program. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. late Sunday struck down the Trump administration's proposed changes to the SNAP benefits program, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of people from losing badly needed federal food assistance.

Read More Show Less
Demonstrators hold signs at an anti-tar sands march in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2015. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Andrea Germanos

A group of Indigenous women and their allies on Monday urged the heads of major global financial institutions to stop propping up the tar sands industry and sever all ties with the sector's "climate-wrecking pipelines, as well as the massively destructive extraction projects that feed them."

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch