Martha Stewart posted/wrote an article recently about preserving vacation memories, and collected seashells was featured as one of the projects. I posted a comment that shell collecting is not an eco friendly hobby, and asked that she not feature collected shells in her posts.
So now I'm on a mission to post on as many sites as I can that shell collecting is not a good idea. Hopefully you'll also mention it on sites you may come across.
On the DPNR website, they have forms you can download about the laws of seashell collecting and other marine life in the USVI.
Sand, *shells*, *sea* fans, live rocks, coral pieces *...* As the animal grows, new *shell* material is added to the *...* beaches and *collecting* the various treasures you find *...*
Take memories, Leave footsteps - Environmental Education *...*
File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat
Virgin Islands law prohibits the collection of *shells*, corals, *sea* fans, etc. without proper*collecting* permits. Imagine the millions of visitors to the territory each *...*
UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS MARINE RESOURCES AND
File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat
and fisheries related reports have been *collected* and compiled at DFW/STT library. *.....*sponges, bryozoans, fishes, lobsters, and *sea* urchins (Tetra Tech 1991a). *......* The boundary between the two is marked by a band of the carrier *shell*, *...*
Unfortunately it's not illegal everywhere and most people aren't aware that it's illegal here. I had a visitor ask me the other day about shells and I had to tell her shells have to stay. When I told her shells removed from VI might render another creature homeless, I think she got the message. That hermit crab video is/was a good opportunity to educate people.
You should post on the visitor's forum as they're the people often posting to research where to find shells. There are VERY few areas here to collect shells and mostly in rather remote areas which visitors would have a hard time accessing. It's not illegal everywhere because it's not an eco-issue everywhere. Or is it? I'm not disputing what you say but is it really a universal eco-issue and, if so, do you have supporting documentation? Just asking and always open to learning!
I sometimes think we go to far with all the ecological stuff. We recently went on a field trip to Buck Island with the Department of Parks and Recreation. They showed us how Taino Indians made tools out of conch shells. Man uses what nature provides to survive. The reason man is alive is because we adapt and use what nature provides to better our lives. I understand that we need to protect and not delete our natural resources but we live on this planet too. Survival of the fittest is the law of the land. It is a delicate balance.
We collect shells and bring them home to study and identify. Sometimes we use them for art projects, to decorate our Christmas Tree, we make bracelets and wonderful diorama undersea projects with them. I understand that if the whole world was rushing to the VI to collect our shells that that would not be a good thing but that is not what is happening. If a tourist wants to take a few shells home as a remembrance of their vacation here, I think it is ok. Really, do you think they are taking a suitcase full? They have been doing it for years and we still have a wealth of shells. Well at least on St. Croix. We don't have many tourist.
Maybe I am not as well educated as I need to be on the subject but I think a little shell collecting is ok as is rock, sand or plant collecting. It is fun and educational.
A Seashell Hunter's Paradise.
CBS News video with Bill Geist.
Sanibel Island in Florida is considered one of the best places to collect seashells. But competition is steep, as Bill Geist discovers at Sanibel's annual "Shellabration," when you have to wake up pretty early in the morning to find some of the best shells.
(Looks like it isn't illegal in Florida to collect shells.)
Aside from learning to toss a killer Frisbee, I learned two valuable lesson in a New Hampshire prep school:
1) Pass over the land like the shadow of a cloud.
2) A cold man builds a big fire and stands far away. A smart man builds a small fire and stands close.
How many shells do you really "need" ?
MS411 I am 100% with you. As an avid reef aquarist for over 12 years, there a couple important reasons that these shells are SO important left alone:
1. Hermits need to find new homes just about every molt. Depending on the species this can be every week. If there are no bigger shells available they will kill snails to get their shells vs. die/get eaten with no protection. Whats the big deal you say? Without snails, algae overtakes the reef, and quickly in the warm waters of the Caribbean. Any coral polyps that may be growing on or near the rock can be quickly overtaken by unwanted algae and killed. This can prove devastating to many coral species. There are of course, bigger factors in algae blooms such as pollution and global warming but no need to assists it IMO.
2. A more important reason is the breakdown and calcification of these shells. The quick version: Shells are made by snails (and clams/oysters) using calcium. When a shell is discarded it breaks down. Whether the calcium carbonate crystal is calcite, in the prismatic layer, or aragonite, as in the nacre of a seashell. This re-builds the calcium levels in the ocean. If the CA levels drop corals and snails can not create new shells as easily and corals can not create their structure and grow.
I noticed there is hardly any elk horn left, when I was in STX, which is surprising because it is one of the fastest growing Acropora species, (2-3 inches a year). In Cayman and Honduras it was everywhere despite being 95% devastated in the last 20 years. I was excited to see the cane bay dive shop "fragging" this coral, having a little mariculture rack and trying to help it make a come back. KUDOS!!! I would be THRILLED if they let me help out, I have a real blue thumb lol. I just retired myself from running a 180 member group of "reefers" (not the green kind of reefer lol) here in AZ. And yes we have corals and fish in AZ many of them now second and third generation corals and aquacultured fish!
I don't mean to say that taking shells will collapse the entire ecosystem of the Caribbean but it certainly can have an impact. I thinks whats worse is that it teaches future generations that its OK, perpetuating the problem and thats its OK to TAKE.
How may people on a cruise ship? 3000? How many ships a day? 2? so lets say high end is 6000 people each day that visits the beaches of the VI. If HALF take just one shell that's 3000 shells a day X 7 days a week? In a small scale it seems so harmless, when you realize what is really happening it can be severe. Sadly, very sadly, this is a minor issue to our reefs, compared to the devastating things going on such as the waste from the rum factory and even the Cruise ships themselves. I did hear that they are looking to modify the waste for re-use at Cruzian and that the CM rum factory already does this. Sugar is a HORRIBLE thing to put into the ocean for obvious reasons but some people dont realize that it depletes the oxygen in the water column when its rapidly introduced. Some aquarists even dose with vodka but its a VERY precise science and if overdone you quickly kill anything in the tank that requires oxygen. Not good.
I am pretty dedicated to anything that involves our oceans. They fascinate me in every sense of the word and I feel this was a MAJOR reason if not the main reason for our move to the VI. My soul needs the ocean, sounds silly but that's the best way to describe it.
If you want a memory from the ocean, COLLECT SEAGLASS NOT SHELLS!!!! Its not only beautiful but removing it actually is helpful!! Problem solved - spread the word 😀
Thanks, AaandA. I more or less (way less) told Martha the same thing - encourage sea glass collection. Her influence is HUGE, and it really it is me that she's encouraging her readers to take.
I just posted some seaglass projects on Pinterest yesterday. Trying to spread the word hoping to get more people interested in collecting it in lieu of shells. Seaglass prices are pretty high on eBay.
I sometimes come across nice, large conch shells or other "collectible" items on the beach... and I hide them in the seagrape so nobody else will come along and take them. Sad, but I don't know what else to do... eventually somebody will come along and grab it if I don't.
Ms411, do you have a link to those seaglass projects? Sounds cool.
It's actually the Nature Conservancy running the coral nursery at Cane Bay--although I think the dive shop helps out.
A few reasons our elkhorn has not recovered from the disease outbreaks/mass die-offs of the 70's and 80's is 1) Hugo and 2) we had a serious bleaching event in 2005 which led to a lot of disease and death 3) We also lost most of our long-spined sea urchin population due to disease (they are coming back now though) 4) our reefs are completely overfished.
Thanks STXEM, I thought if was the dive shop, either way it's great. Just curious about the overfishing; it seems like a fairly small community how did it get overfished? Were there fishing bardges or was it just from the community over many years? I did notice its pretty light on fish although on my second divest the wall I saw LOTS of fish including schooling triggers and tons of smaller fish.
Community over the years, unsustainably--ie taking the big breeder fish, catch limits not present or unenforced. You'd be surprised at how many parrotfish or triggers and other reef fish can be taken out of the ocean per fisherman per year. Also, due to our geographic location (isolated), our fish stocks cannot be replenished from other areas by larval drifting etc (which is what happens in other areas where the islands are closer or ocean currents more cooperative). Basically what we have is what we have. Subsequently, once they are gone, they are gone. I was diving in Key Largo in June and was SHOCKED by the size and number of parrotfish they have (there is no parrotfish fishery in the keys). There are also still huge groupers in Florida too. There are no grouper in STX left. No midnight parrotfish. Few large queen parrotfish. Anecdotally, I have been seeing more larger parrotfish in the East End Marine Park. So perhaps the no-take areas of the park are helping. However, that is just a casual observation with absolutely no science to back it up so it may just be a skewed observation on my part and false.
While you do still see fish while diving here (obviously! ;)), there are no where near the numbers or diversity that there should be.
Sigh. I see nobody's getting it, so I'll look for allies elsewhere.
Whoa! If you're passionate about something then you share information and don't just throw your hands up in the air with a comment such as this. I suggested earlier that you post this on the visitor's forum and also asked some perfectly viable questions, viz:
"You should post on the visitor's forum as they're the people often posting to research where to find shells. There are VERY few areas here to collect shells and mostly in rather remote areas which visitors would have a hard time accessing. It's not illegal everywhere because it's not an eco-issue everywhere. Or is it? I'm not disputing what you say but is it really a universal eco-issue and, if so, do you have supporting documentation? Just asking and always open to learning!"
I've been lugging around with me a big basket of shells I collected at Sanibel well over 30 years ago, am well aware of the rules and regulations where collecting in the USVI is concerned and am all for protecting our fragile resources but you threw out that it was a general planetary issue so I asked for details because it's something I just don't know about. Share the info and educate us!
STXem whats currently happening or is there info on what the VI is doing for the Caribbean as far as protection? Ive read the East End Marine Park management plan. Looks good, I wonder how funding is. I am guessing its somewhat on the back burner right now because if the other issues (Hovensa, crime etc.)..... No? I fully plan to help in any way possible at Reef Jam next year.
I did notice the reefs that I visited did have some algae issues, hydroids, and I did see some bleaching. Once I get down there I will be able to pay a bit more attention to specific species.
I did find a couple good links to share:
http://www.legislative.noaa.gov/NIYS/ and select USVI
This is a bit older but man there is a lot of info!
I agree with Tart ms411. You should educate others like me about the shells. Thanks beachcomber for your links. Stxem you are always a wealth of knowledge. Thank you. Our household never wants to harm the environment so education is always well received.
I have a couple of questions. We do collect seashells to bring home and study. We have numerous books on shells and it is so fun to look them up and find out what they are. We separate them according to which beach we found them so we can go put them back. We never remove shells from the island. Should we not do this? I will look up the links that beachcomber provided.
Seven years ago Cane Bay Beach had so many spiny sea urchins that I was fearful of letting my son in the water. He was 2. They all went away but now they are back. I don't worry about him in the water in more with them. He loves them. Does that mean that what ever caused them to leave is gone and now they are coming back or is it a natural event.
Chenay Bay used to have hundreds of starfish. Now we hardly ever see one. Why? Have they migrated somewhere else?
AandA2, you say that you had a large salt water tank in the states. Is that harmful and where do the fish come from? I know you buy them but where do they come from?
Stxem, do you think the increase in lionfish has anything to do with our declining fish population?
Conchologists of America has link about the hobby of seashell collecting. Collectors are now using photography and data, instead of actually removing the shells from the beaches and oceans.
There is a law on Sanibel Island of never removing "live" shells and to return them to the water.
dougtamjj, you're welcome. I hope the links are helpful and informative.
I would be like to able to find beautiful sea glass, but only have found glass that will cut me, which I throw away immediately.
Just want to remind everyone that cries seashell collecting is against the law....so is speeding...so is so many things! But right you never do anything wrong!
Who's "crying" about seashell collecting being illegal? It was commented upon simply because it does happen to be illegal here and is, I believe a Federal law applicable to our area, not a local law.. I'm simply curious (as apparently are others) about the legal situation in other areas where seashells abound as I just don't know and it's relevant to the OP's position. No pot to stir here on this thread.