Shell Shocked

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When we travel to various places in the world, we tend to buy souvenirs for our friends and to refresh our memories of the trip once we go back home. Now there is nothing wrong in buying souvenirs as they do provide a living to the local population. But we need to be careful that what we are buying is not illegal or endangered. Anything that is made out of ivory or animal skin should be avoided. Now we all know that animal skin and fur products should not be bought. But do we know that seashells which lie on the beaches waiting for us to pick them up are protected in India by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Laws are of no use unless people are aware of what they are doing. It is important to generate awareness about the damage we do by collecting these seashells and corals.

Thousands of large conch shells are sold every day in places like the Somnath temple, Kanyakumari and Andaman and Nicobar islands. Traders pay the local fisherman handsomely to dredge thousands of tons of seashells and corals from the ocean floor. These shells have living marine creatures inside them. They are cleaned by boiling or dipping them into acid to kill and remove the creatures. Then they are polished and sold in the markets to tourists. Corals are nurseries for thousands of species of fish and marine life. They occupy less than 0.1% of the world’s ocean surface and yet provide a home to 25% of all marine species. They grow extremely slowly so harvesting them can cause long term damage to the eco system.

Shop owners often claim that they only sell empty or dead shells, but this is unlikely since empty shells fade and lose their lustre, while live ones are more colourful and vibrant.

We all have been to beaches and collected bags full of them and then come home and completely forgotten about them. Eventually they eat dust and end up in the garbage bin. Did you know that the corals and shells that remain on the beach play a vital role in keeping the sand in place and turn into sand themselves eventually?  So next time do try to limit your haul, maybe you don’t need 30 shells to remember your holiday. One beautiful shell might work just as well.

But do check if there is a creature living in the shell. Put it in a mug of seawater and let it lie undisturbed. If there is a creature then it will pop its head out once it starts feeling safe. If that’s the case then do return the shell back to the sea. It’s very important to have compassion for nature and our surroundings.

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