Every year, millions of seahorses, sea stars, shellfish, corals, and other marine animals are collected alive and dried as souvenirs. Taking shells from the beach also disrupts the aquatic ecosystem. Left in place these “shells” provide homes for some animals like hermit crabs, shelter for small fish, and are used in the nests of some shorebirds. They are eventually ground up by the surf to become the beautiful sand we play on at the beach. Since the number of people visiting the beach is increasing, if these organisms are not left alone, the number of shells on the beach will decrease, negatively affecting the health of the ecosystem.
A study was done on the environmental impacts of decreased numbers of shells on beaches, which included increased beach erosion, a decline in calcium carbonate from recycled shells and a drop in diversity and abundance of animals and plants that depend on shells, such as crabs, small fishes, algae and seagrass. By leaving shells and sea creatures in their home, and refusing to purchase souvenirs and other items made with the dried bodies of once living sea creatures, we can help oceans and beaches around the world become healthy again.
One animal that has felt a devastating impact on this issue is seahorses. Seahorses and the places they live face a range of threats in the wild, including the destruction of the coral reefs and sea grass beds where seahorses live, fishing techniques that mistakenly catch seahorses, and collection of seahorses for souvenirs or for use in traditional medicines. Because of this the population of sea horses has fallen to the point that they have been listed as “near threatened” by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Let your family and friends know how they can help save the ocean’s ecosystems and keep enjoying the beach! Take only memories and photos, leave only footprints. – Jeff Garrett, ENC Intern
Sources:Seahorse Propagation – Monterey Bay Aquarium “Beach Tourists Who Collect Shells May Be Harming the Environment” – Smithsonian Magazine