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Owing to the ecological importance of this species in controlling the 'crown of thorns' a veracious coral predator, the triton's trumpet on the right, is protected by law in many parts of the world.
Photo: Chris Johnson

July 3, 2001
The Shell Trade
  Real Audio
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Log Transcript

It is difficult to imagine that a trip to the market and the subsequent purchase choices we make, may be having an adverse affect on the health of local wildlife populations. It is often the case when relaxing in an exotic tropical location during a well-earned vacation, that one desires some little piece of the tropics that can be taken home to forever remind them of that short time in paradise.

Renowned for the brilliance of their attractive, bright patterned colors and often their rarity, the temptation to purchase shells as souvenirs can be irresistible. An impulsive purchase can spell disaster for the local reef. One may have a nagging suspicion that perhaps we really shouldn't be buying such items, but the price is so good that we tell ourselves - "just one shell won't hurt, it was probably found washed up on a beach somewhere anyway!" Quite the contrary, once the demand has been created, local people will actively seek out the most beautiful, the most exotic and, unfortunately, sometimes the most rare species living on the reef, tidal flats or sea floor to meet the insatiable tourist demand.

Several thousand shell-collecting tourists a year can rapidly deplete the population in a given area. The reef is denuded to the detriment of the entire reef system and often to the local community who depend on a healthy reef for their subsistence.

The tourist trade in shells has contributed to the rapid demise of this popular but now rare species of volute.
Photo: Chris Johnson

When visiting tropical locations, it is imperative that one be informed about the local species. Many are offered for sale at tourist markets, a consequence of the impressive demand we create. It is important to be aware of what you are purchasing, as the ecological effects can be devastating. Molluscs are extremely diverse. Some are carnivores feeding on small fish and urchins. The Triton's Trumpet is one of a handful of animals to keep reef plague species such as the Crown of Thorns starfish in check. Others are herbivores that eat algae, some filter feed while others consume the waste products of other animals.

Many of the approximately 5,000 species involved in the shell trade worldwide, are reef species. Many vulnerable species include narrow endemics with small populations. Easily accessible, species such as conchs, cones, cowries, trochus, volutes and trumpets are decreasing in numbers due to the shell trade. As spectacular as they are, shells should never be collected live from the reef, except for genuine scientific purposes. If you must, restrict yourself to picking up a very limited number from the beach, checking carefully to see if they're empty first. Often the shells of molluscs are recycled when a hermit crab takes up residence.

In order to stop this trade in rare and exotic shells, it is the consumer that must choose not to purchase them.

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in Papua New Guinea.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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