Disclaimer: Please be aware that the legality of collecting items can vary depending on the location in which you’re collecting. Before performing any collection tasks, it’s ultimately your responsibility to check local and state rules, regulations, and laws to see if there are any legal limitations on what you can collect and how you can collect those items. We are not responsible for any legal consequences arising from your collection activities.
The Bahamas is an archipelago of nearly 700 coral islands and the favorite holiday destination of many tourists. Beachcombers love these islands for the pristine beaches, the clear skies, and, of course, the abundance of sea shells. However, is it legal to bring these shells back home?
You can bring back shells from the Bahamas as long as they don’t contain living organisms and are properly cleaned before being packed. Some shells, like the queen conch, may have certain restrictions on them, but you should be able to bring back most sea shells without a problem.
The customs department should have no problem with people taking home seashells they find on the beach, but you’ll want to declare such luggage to the authorities. This article discusses how you can bring shells home without getting in trouble.
Is Shell Collecting Legal In the Bahamas?
The Bahamas are known for its pristine beaches, where thousands of shells wash up yearly. As such, it’s an excellent location for beachcombers and shell enthusiasts looking to add to their collections.
However, as with most beaches today, there can be some confusion concerning the legality of collecting seashells.
It’s legal to collect shells in the Bahamas as long as the shells don’t contain living organisms. The government can levy heavy fines and even imprison tourists who violate this law and try to take home live mollusks.
While shell collecting is legal in the Bahamas, there may be some discrepancies regarding the species of sea shells you’re allowed to take home. As such, it’s best to ask the authorities before picking up shells on the beach, as taking live shells is strictly prohibited, regardless of the species.
Why You Should Leave Live Shells Alone
The U.S. government takes a grave view of those who try to smuggle live shells back home. There are a few reasons why people want to find live specimens to take home, but the main reason is that a live mollusk’s shell is often better preserved than a shell floating around for months.
However, aside from severe penalties, here are two main reasons you should avoid bringing home live seashells.
Taking a Live Shell Home Is Cruel
Taking a live creature home when it can only survive in water is cruel. Conches, for instance, can only live for a couple of hours outside the water. And most of us don’t want to harm a living creature without reason, especially if it’s for something as frivolous as showing off your new souvenir to a group of friends.
Additionally, picking up a live shell can cause the mollusk to panic, and it may injure itself in its fear.
It’s best to wait a moment after you pick up a shell and check if a claw or other appendage pops out of the gap. If you notice signs of movement, you can bet the creature is still alive, so you’ll need to leave it alone.
Another sign is by looking at the opening for what’s known as the operculum, which is a sort of door that protects the mollusk within the shell. This trapdoor is visible when you pick up the shell, and if you notice it, you can rest assured the creature is still alive, so put it back in the water.
Taking Live Shells Upsets the Ecological Imbalance
Removing shells from their natural habitat can disrupt the environment for years.
Live mollusks reproduce periodically, creating more mollusks that sustain their species through the years. However, removing these specimens from the water kills them, preventing future generations from coming into existence.
Shelled creatures also form a part of the natural marine ecosystem. Certain marine animals use seashells as anchors in the water to stop themselves from being washed up on shore, and removing mollusks from the environment deprives creatures of these facilities. These creatures might also set up housekeeping in one of these shells, so you should be careful not to take some creature’s home.
While the consequences of our actions may not be immediately apparent, taking live mollusks home can have repercussions for generations to come.
Fortunately, several laws are in place to prevent you from bringing home live shells from the Bahamas. However, as you can see, even without laws prohibiting such collection, it’s best to avoid taking live creatures due to the harm caused.
When Shell Transport Becomes Illegal
Bringing home live shells is strictly prohibited under U.S. law, and if you’re planning to take shells home, it’s best to declare what you’re carrying to the airport authorities so they can tell you what’s allowed. There’s unlikely to be an issue if you’re taking home dead shells.
However, you most likely won’t be allowed to take home sea shells because they aren’t cleaned properly. And by this, we mean that no animal should be left in the shell.
No matter what species you bring back, it’s essential that the shell is cleaned and sanitized before bringing it back to the U.S., as airport authorities can confiscate shells if they find them dirty.
Here’s why they may confiscate dirty shells:
- Foreign bacteria: Most food items or animals aren’t allowed to cross borders due to the foreign substances they may introduce into the home environment. Foreign bacteria or viruses can negatively affect the endemic population unprepared to deal with new strains of pathogens, and they can carry germs that can affect humans.
- Foul odors: Shells that aren’t properly cleaned may contain dead animal tissue or algae that can release a foul odor. These smells can make travel uncomfortable and difficult for all passengers.
The best way to ensure a safe and sure passage to the U.S. is to clean your sea shells appropriately, so they aren’t confiscated at the airport.
One way to avoid these issues is to visit a gift shop and support the local economy by buying a seashell that’s already properly cleaned.
How To Clean Sea Shells
Cleaning sea shells is an intensive and time-consuming process, but if you want to take home the shells you find in the Bahamas, spend enough time cleaning them up.
1. Remove the Periostracum
The periostracum is the outer organic layer on most sea shells. This layer grows with the mollusk and stays on the shell even after the mollusk dies. It often contains tiny encrustations that must be removed before further cleaning is possible.
As it’s made from organic material, the periostracum also releases a foul odor over time. To remove this layer, soak your sea shells in a bleach-water solution and peel this layer off.
2. Remove Bacteria and Algae
To get rid of bacteria and algae on the shell, you need a soft cloth or cotton swab and a solution of vinegar and water. Ensure the solution isn’t too strong, as four parts water to one part vinegar should do the trick.
Dip the cloth or swab in this solution and gently rub the surface of the shell. Don’t submerge the shell in this solution, as the acid in vinegar can cause the calcium in the shell to degrade.
3. Get Rid of Animal Tissue
Sea shells usually become dead or empty when the mollusk dies. However, unless the mollusk is consumed by another creature, it has died in the shell, and its body will give off an unpleasant smell.
Aside from the smell, keeping this shell at home will attract pests like rodents drawn to the smell. It’s vital to clean up dead animal tissue before packing your shell for the trip home. There are two main ways to do this.
Boiling the Shell
Boiling the shell in water loosens up the animal tissue lodged inside the grooves and crevices of the shell. The pieces will naturally come out when you remove the shell from the boiling water.
Bring the water to a boil before putting the shell inside, as the sudden temperature change could cause the shell to crack. Keep the shell submerged for about five minutes before taking it out and placing it on a dry towel.
You can now shake it out to remove the animal tissue lodged inside and use tweezers to remove any stubborn encrustations.
Freezing the Shell
Freezing the shell is another excellent way to get rid of dead animal tissue. Here’s what you should do:
- Place your shell in a zip-loc bag filled with water and palace the bag in the freezer for a few hours or overnight.
- Once the water has frozen, remove the bag and place it on a towel to defrost.
- You must allow the shell to defrost naturally and completely, or the dead tissue won’t come out of the crevices shell.
- Once the shell defrosts, the dead animal tissue should come out as a liquid from the inside.
While it’s safe to bring home sea shells from the Bahamas, it’s crucial to ensure the shells don’t contain living creatures and aren’t banned from export. It’s always a good idea to declare your beach findings to the airport authorities and preemptively avoid problems arising from the situation.