Does Collecting Seashells Really Harm Beaches?

sharks eye

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

Atlantic Giant cockle shells

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.

east coast florida beach shells
Seashells and beach finds along the east coast of Florida

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.

Author: Pam

Spending time on the water is the best, and blogging about the sea life found along the saltwater river and ocean is what I do. I’m also a designer at Zazzle and sell my work, with a lot of ocean themes, on the site.

25 thoughts on “Does Collecting Seashells Really Harm Beaches?”

  1. Although millions of people may visit some beaches, they don’t all take a shell. Many collect nothing. Beaches are much bigger in area than my driveway, and beaches have layers of shells hidden, and exposed at times, due to tides and storms. Also, more and more shells are washed up every day. So it’s not at all the same Jeff. But thanks for the comment.

  2. I’m coming to your house with over a million friends and taking just one stone from your driveway ! Get the point yet?

  3. Why do you think people go to Sanibel… it is advertised as the seashell capital of the world! Individual beaches / areas / cities need to care enough to make their own laws and rules about their area. However, do you think it will ever stop in Sanibel when tourists and snowbirds visit mainly to find shells? An overabundance of people is the problem and is only getting worse in Florida. No one should collect a bucketful of shells and maybe with all the darn people no one should take even one shell, but it simply will never happen. Commenters keep saying I should “do my research” which means what exactly? Travel the world, check out the problems on every single beach? You don’t like what has happened in Sanibel, neither do I. Collecting shells is the least of this states problems. On most beaches, taking a shell or two is not detrimental to the ecology – in some places it may obviously be a concern. This blog is based on my opinion and I appreciate the opinions of others, so thank you.

  4. Born and raised very close to Sanibel beach in Florida and go there often. I can tell you first hand that the beaches have changed dramatically from when I was a child. Pictures from 35 years ago compared to today shows how much the beaches have changed. Shells were in abundance back then, now our beaches look empty from loss of shells. Why don’t you do your research, it does make a difference. Just leave them be. Think of all the snowbirds that come every year? Of course thousands of shells are taken.

  5. I’m not writing a book. I’m writing an opinion on a blog post. I suspected that some people would disagree with my opinion and that is their right and yours. I am NOT basing my opinion on nothing. From what I have experienced in the area where I live, there are plenty of shells to go around and my picking up a couple here and there is no big deal. This I know, and you do not. How do we share information without picking up a shell and sharing it? It’s true that I don’t know everything about this subject, but I don’t claim to.
    As for the birds comment, they may use shells for their nests, but I have seen many bird’s nests in my life and never a shell in one. In other words, birds prefer to use twigs, leaves, grass, string, hair, and mud. If they cannot find a seashell I doubt they are worried or unable to build a nest. I may be ignorant and irritating in your eyes, but at least I am not rude.

  6. Your article has no basis on research or reality. The “huh?” after learning birds use shells for nests shows your incredible ignorance. It doesn’t matter what you find hard to believe or how many shells you believe are being taken. You are basing your opinions on NOTHING. Whether or not it is harmful, at least do some research instead of writing irritatingly-ignorant opinions based on your desires.

  7. Common sense needs to be applied when taking up a “cause”. It can get out of hand. If there is a particular place where shell collecting is obviously hurting the environment, then I can see the issue, but it does not apply to everyone who walks a beach and picks up a shell. Don’t feel guilty people – collect that shell to remind you of happy times.
    Thanks for taking the time to comment 3beachangels. Happy to hear you enjoy reading my blog.

  8. I totally agree with you. This is just more overly blamey bull crap that the “life” police invented to control people and suck the joy out of EVERYTHING. Your points about the netting industry are spot on. What about all the hermit crabs captured to sell as pets? The shell activists should boycott pet stores who sell fish, crabs, and shells for crabs! And all grocery stores and fish markets who sell scallops, or any other seafood for that matter. Isn’t that depriving other sea creatures of food?! No more sushi, lobster or snow crab people. As long as collectors aren’t taking inhabited shells, it’s impossible to be making a negative impact and I really wish people like this would find a real cause to champion like chid abuse or human trafficking. We sell sea shell ornaments. They’re magical and remind us of the beach when real problems come to call. They also help us support our children and earn an honest living without harming anyone. Love your blog btw.

  9. I live in Washington and we had a local beach seriously impacted by tourism and collecting. It completely shifted the balance of organisms. With tourism also comes foot traffic. Seashells also dissolve over time to provide calcium carbonate to organisms forming their own shells. With the increased acidification of the ocean it’s hard enough to form calcium carbonate without having one of the sources taken away. Luckily our state park put up signs discouraging collecting with info on why it harms the delicate balance there.

  10. Hello Karen,
    Thank you so much for your insightful comment. I appreciate hearing your point of view.

  11. I enjoyed the way this article was written and appreciate the special attention to the notes (beach combing) within research studies. However, I still think it’s a little silly to add to the problem because big businesses do far more damage than individuals. Big businesses dump loads of toxins into the environment, but that doesn’t justify anyone pouring motor oil down a gutter or poorly disposing of prescription drugs.

    While one person taking one shell won’t have a significant impact, if each tourist took just one it definitely would have a vast impact over time. These shells are a natural method of preventing erosion, they offer protection/shelter to smaller critters and the tiny organisms that our food sources thrive on, and they aid the wind in erosion as water subsides and land moves over the decades. “I’m just one person” is a poor excuse to damaging our ecosystem in a conveniently avoidable way. Why would anyone even want a sea carcass as home decor?

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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 🙂

  18. 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.

  19. 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…

  20. 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! 😉

  21. 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!

  22. 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!

  23. 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

Leave a Reply to Ticika DominickCancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.