Picking sea shells is an essential part of visiting the beach, as most avid beachgoers will tell you. And while it’s challenging to find certain specimens, most beaches have a vast collection of sea shells to choose from. However, there has been a recent decline in sea shells, with some beaches completely devoid of them.
Some beaches don’t have seashells primarily due to the overharvesting of sea shells by collectors and poachers looking to sell the shells for a fortune. Another reason for the lack of shells on the beach can be attributed to global warming and the subsequent rise in CO2 levels.
It seems natural to expect sea shells on the beach, but their appearance is getting rarer over time. In this article, we’ll explore why sea shells are disappearing from beaches, what this could mean, and what the human race can do about it.
Here’s Why Some Beaches Are Shell-Free
If you’ve seen enough shells, you may have noticed some with exceptional beauty. It’s only natural for people to bring these specimens home after scouring the beach. However, most beach-goers don’t realize how this harmless act can affect the marine ecosystem.
Here are a few reasons why it has become increasingly difficult to find sea shells on some beaches across the world.
As mentioned before, the main reason it’s challenging to find shells on the beach is that humans have taken most of them away!
Most beach-goers search the sands for anything they can take home, and the more they find, the better — for them, of course. However, having visitors at the beach every day can quickly cause the shells to disappear as collectors take what they can.
Fortunately, some states in the U.S. have set up new laws prohibiting people from taking home more than a certain quantity in weight of shells they find on the beach. These prohibitions ensure people stick to a number and leave most shells alone.
Collectors Harvesting Live Specimens
Another reason for the dwindling shell population is that some people take home live specimens instead of empty shells.
For example, one woman in Florida was fined and sent to jail for a fortnight for picking up forty queen conch shells that had living organisms in them. This indiscriminate collecting means fewer live organisms to reproduce and create more mollusks.
If you select a shell from the beach, be sure that it’s an empty, dead shell – the older, the better. Head over to my other article for tips on determining the age of a shell: How Old Are Shells That You Find on the Beach?
But while beachgoers and shell collectors can reduce the shell population to a certain extent, poaching is the main reason for beaches without shells. Poachers and so-called collectors use nets and trawl the ocean floor, picking out massive quantities of shells to turn in for profit.
And considering the laws on shells weren’t clear until recently, their cruel activities have led to a significant reduction in the population. Additionally, those looking to make a profit from shells couldn’t care less if the mollusk is alive or dead.
Many poachers search for live mollusks as the shells tend to be in better condition. They then proceed to kill the creature so the pristine shell can be sold for a pretty price.
That said, ocean trawling and indiscriminate hunting of shells is the leading cause of a reduction in shell population.
Rising CO2 Levels
Most people aren’t fans of the global warming theory and don’t believe the earth is heating up or that CO2 levels are rising. However, the ocean provides us with plenty of evidence for this — one of them being a reduction in sea shells washed up on the beach.
Rising CO2 levels make the ocean water more acidic in its composition. This increase in acidity levels leads to a drop in the presence of carbonate in the ocean. And considering that mollusks need carbonate to create their shells, an increase in acidity has led to a drop in the availability of sea shells.
While this may not seem like an immediate danger, the fact is that rising CO2 levels over time will lead to a further reduction in the shell population. And we could be faced with the possibility of shell-less beaches (among other obvious dangers).
Overharvesting and rising CO2 levels are the only two reasons there is a lack of shells on the beach. And aside from a loss of collection items, the lack of sea shells can spell trouble for marine ecosystems.
What Happens When Shells Disappear
It’s bad enough that there are no dead sea shells on specific beaches, but the fact that people bring home live creatures is cruel and uncaring. And the lack of sea shells can spell serious trouble for marine ecosystems and coastal areas.
Here are some effects of the declining numbers of seashells:
Many Sea Creatures are Left Vulnerable
For starters, shells are necessary for certain marine animals, like hermit crabs, that make their homes in discarded shells. When you take away a dead sea shell, you are possibly robbing a hermit crab of its future home. And by doing so, you affect the creatures along that food chain.
Additionally, taking away live shells kills the mollusk, harming a creature and affecting the environment that it’s a part of. Certain sponges and tiny creatures also use sea shells as an anchoring surface to hold on to. By removing shells from their environment, you rob these animals of their natural anchors and in turn affect the ecosystem they live in.
The Risk of Soil Erosion at the Beach Increases
Aside from this, shells are essential to prevent soil erosion on the beach. The waves and wind on the beach can effectively strip away layers of sand, reducing the shoreline and bringing the water closer to human civilization.
When shells accumulate on the beach, they create a steady structure that holds onto the sand. As such, the shells act as anchors and help the soil resist strong winds and water currents that can strip the beach of sand over time.
And this erosion can be dangerous as coastal areas are heavily populated. And with a reduced barrier for the water, these areas are more prone to flooding and the effect of rising water levels. As such, removing shells from the beach can have drastic consequences — the initial bits of which we are already experiencing.
What To Do About Vanishing Sea Shells
While the problem of dwindling shells can be attributed to larger forces, there are plenty of things individuals can do to help reduce the damage.
Avoid Bringing Home Any Live Shells
The act is cruel and is likely to disrupt the ecosystem in ways we can’t imagine yet. It may be tempting to create works of art with certain specimens you find on the beach. However, only bring a shell home once you’re sure it’s not housing a living creature.
If you find a sand dollar or other urchin, check if it’s alive before putting it in your collection bucket.
Choose the Shells Carefully
Additionally, you want to be wary of the kind of shells you’re bringing home from the beach.
Bivalves, like oysters, mussels, and scallops, that are split down the middle and dead are safe to bring home. But avoid bringing back conches or shells of bigger dimensions as they could become a home for another marine creature that needs a shell’s protection.
While it’s tempting to collect the most beautiful specimens you find, it’s your responsibility to preserve the sanctity of the beach and ensure you don’t contribute to the damage.
Obey the Laws Protecting Aquatic and Marine Life
Governments across the world are becoming aware of the dangers of overharvesting, and new laws are being put in place to prevent excessive poaching. Hopefully, the punishment for violation is severe enough to deter poachers from trying. And considering that poaching shells aren’t easy to cover up, these countermeasures should be effective.
Fortunately, new laws are being passed across the world to ensure companies follow practices that limit and even eliminate the emission of greenhouse gases. And as the world moves towards a greener future, we’re sure to see a drop in CO2 emissions and a subsequent rise in the shell population.
While it takes time for these changes to take effect, it’s up to individuals to monitor their behavior and only pick dead shells, avoid overharvesting, and spread the information as much as possible.
And by being mindful of how our actions affect the marine environment, we can slowly — but surely — restore the seashell populations at the beach.
It’s strange to find a beach without shells, but there have been increasing instances of this phenomenon taking place. Here are a few points to help summarize the article:
- Some beaches are completely devoid of sea shells due to two main reasons: the overharvesting of shells by individuals and poachers and an increase in CO2 levels.
- A loss of sea shells leads to a lack of biodiversity and soil erosion on the beach which can be dangerous to coastal populations.
- The best way to help is by minimizing how much we collect and only picking up dead shells.