Does Collecting Seashells Really Harm Beaches?

beach shells

clam shells from the beach

Don’t you feel guilty about collecting seashells? Apparently some people think you should.

When I found this article entitled, “Hey Tourists: Leave Those Shells on The Beach Would Ya?” at the site, I had to read it.  And then I shook my head.
After all, I write about collecting seashells and that post is saying it is not a good idea.  But what is the reasoning behind this?  Well, I read that tourism to beaches has increased so much that the collecting of seashells is in danger of hampering the coastline.  Shells that could be used by hermit crabs as homes, and by sea birds as nesting material (huh?), and in beach stabilization.  Okay, the study was done over a 30 year period on beaches in the Mediterranean, where tourism to the coast has increased three fold.

Sorry folks but I find it incredibly hard to believe that tourists are collecting THAT many seashells and taking them back home.  How much room do you leave in your suitcase for shells when you take a vacation to the shore?  And even if they are significantly hoarding shells, these are most likely empty shells.  What about the living organisms that are dredged up with fishing nets, and selected for food, and sold in shops?  These are the ones doing the most damage, not a simple vacationer.

Also the damage done to the coast from building, driving on the sand and polluting the water has to be much greater.  And the study says that this was mainly a way to account for shell loss due to beachcombing, and nothing else.  But it definitely places the most blame on tourists.  In fact it is titled: Vanishing Clams on an Iberian Beach: Local Consequences and Global Implications of Accelerating Loss of Shells to TourismRead the whole study here.

So do we see negative effects from shell collecting?  I haven’t heard of any.  Just a doomsday story about how tourists are silently wrecking the beaches.  What I find incredibly typical is that all the comments after the “Hey Tourists” post have people apologizing for shelling, and promising to never do it again.  Lemmings.
Go ahead and take a few (unoccupied) shells home people… good grief.

About Dustytoes

I grew up in New England but spent most of my life living in central Florida. Now I'm back up north and blog about seashells, beaches, gardening, boating, fishing, hiking, photography, PKD, and my work as a designer for Zazzle. I move around a lot and try to discover the best in all places I live. Life may be tough, but it's not boring.
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13 Responses to Does Collecting Seashells Really Harm Beaches?

  1. Heather Lueck says:

    It seems to me like it would be common logic that over collection could potentially pose a problem for crustacean sea life. Everything in nature is kept in balance for a reason, and if shells weren’t considered “pretty” to us humans, they would be left on the beach for natural use instead of sitting in jars or on picture frames – doing nothing. Call it petty if you like, but I personally think leaving a little crab’s potential home where he can find it… is more important than the temporary aesthetic satisfaction I may get from collecting a shell – which then brings NOTHING of importance to my life.

    • Dustytoes says:

      Thank you for sharing your opinion Heather. You might say the same thing about flowers. If they weren’t considered pretty to us humans we would never pick them and use them as decorations for all sorts of things. Flowers provide food and homes to insects yet we use them to temporarily please our senses, or make someone feel good. This is just one example of how we use nature for out own happiness.
      But, as I’ve said, I agree that over-collecting empty seashells is undoubtably bad.

  2. Coastal Conservationist says:

    Oh, and I have to say that pointing out that there are *worse* things for the environment doesn’t make shell collecting NOT bad… Eating one piece of cake isn’t as bad as eating the whole thing, but it still is not good for you. It takes many parts to create the whole. Collecting shells en masse is a PART of the greater problem. I live in a tourist beach town and work as an marine educator… Shells are scarce on the beaches in peak season compared to off season, and I know many other locals who are frustrated at tourists’ lack of understanding that Leave No Trace principles extend to coastal habitats, even those just in front of their hotel.

    • Dustytoes says:

      Thank you for your post Coastal Conservationist, I was wondering when I would hear from the other side. I certainly appreciate your input here. As a marine educator you no doubt know better than I do the extent of the effects of over-collecting of seashells. I also understand that in touristy areas where many people invade the shoreline year-long, taking shells could be a serious problem. But when I make a trip to Bethune Beach and maybe find a couple of empty shells that I would like to keep, I don’t believe that collecting them will in any way affect the ecosystem of that area. They would otherwise end up buried in the sand.
      I admit that I don’t know about the effects of shell collecting all over the world, and I don’t know where you are, but I will continue to pick up shells that interest me, and not feel bad about it. It is impossible to leave NO trace, no matter what we do. Perhaps the big hotels along the shore should take responsibility for the collecting that is hurting their shorelines. It seems this is specific to certain over-populated areas.

  3. Coastal Conservationist says:

    It isn’t crazy to say that shell collecting can be detrimental to coastal ecosystem! Many shorebirds, such as various terns and black skimmers, prefer to nest on shell-rich substrates. Shells also help to form small islands of dredged material, which are safer for shorebirds because of the decreased risk of predation and human impact. It is perfectly fine to have an opinion, but please don’t confuse the facts to that you feel justified in that opinion!

  4. I think that is being really petty. There is nothing wrong with beach combing and taking shells or anything else from the beach come to that, Happy beach combing to all I say :)

  5. flandrumhill says:

    Although I disagree with killing animals just for their shells and cringe whenever I see shells for sale in the tourist shops, finding an empty shell on the beach is another matter. Here in Nova Scotia, I don’t think there are the large amounts of shellfish that inhabit warmer waters, so their presence or lack of it on our beaches probably has less of an impact on the ecosystem.

    On a lighter note, I often wonder if the mermaids have an opinion on this…

    • Dustytoes says:

      It’s so good to hear from you. It’s still beautiful up there in the north where you live. Love your post about mermaids and the ocean pictures.

  6. Jody says:

    I’m with you! Most beach communities encourage beachcombing as a harmless hobby. Of course, I don’t collect in marine sanctuaries and other sites where collecting is off limits. But, give me a break!! I say: I won’t bother them if they chose not to collect and they shouldn’t bother me if I do. ~Great post!

    • Dustytoes says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting Jody. I just hate how people think they have to immediately jump on the bandwagon without considering how foolish it might be. Get shelling! ;)

  7. timelesslady says:

    Oh how I loved your post! I am an AVID shell collector. Doesn’t matter to me if the shell is an oyster or a clam, or a humble periwinkle. I love the collecting. I have plastic shoeboxes filled with shells and seaglass and driftwood. Someday I’ll figure out a good project to make with them. What nonsense…don’t pick up shells. Shame on those who shame us for anything and everything. I’m going to have to follow this blog. I like finding people who think like me. Happy day to you! Kathy

    • Dustytoes says:

      Hi Kathy, thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Yes, some people get carried away and forget that they have their own minds – just think people! Thank you also for the follow, and have a happy, shell-collecting day!

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