For most of us the thought of a sunbathed beach and the ocean rhythmically crashing against it, comes with a warm feeling in the heart. We have all been mesmerized by it because it reminds us just how beautiful our Earth actually is and it gives us the rare opportunity to zoom out, reflect on life and feel all wise. We all love the ocean and want to take a piece of its peace back with us to our chaotic lives. We do this in the form of shells we either collect while walking on the beach or buy from souvenir shops. Don’t worry, almost every ocean lover has done this at some point in life, but now it is time to evolve. Collecting shells from the ocean or beach has a severe long term impact on the environment and here is what is at stake.
Don’t be a Home wrecker
Shells are homes to interesting creatures called mollusks that painstakingly build and carry their homes on their back throughout their lives. You might think they’re empty but most shells are alive when you pick them up. There are also many species of algae and other microorganisms that grow on the surface of shells. When they do empty, shells are used and reused as second hand homes by hermit crabs and are also used as hiding places by small fish. When they do disintegrate they are used by native birds to build their nest. Just imagine when you pick up one shell how many current or potential homes you might be wrecking.
The strongest bond
Sea shells are the glue that hold beaches together. The shells and their fragments prevent erosion by providing roughage to the fine sand on beaches that would otherwise get washed away. Imagine one day going to your favorite beach and not finding it there. It also serves as an anchor for sea grasses.
Beach makers and beach breakers
Sand might seem very abundant right now but it actually takes millions of years to form, by weathering of rocks and yes, shells. Although it might not look like it, the world is actually running out of sand. There is increasing pressure on beaches to provide sand for all types of construction by way of illegal sand mining and the deadly mafia that protects it. We should not be adding to it by taking away one of the most important ingredients in the sand recipe. You might think you are just one person picking up one shell, but it is thousands like you who arrive on this island (or any other island) thinking the same thing.
Shells are like Eno for the ocean
Every creature in the world has a role to play in the natural order and sea shells are more important for maintaining the chemical balance of the ocean than we can imagine. Firstly shells are made of a mineral called calcium carbonate which needs to go back into the ecosystem to provide nutrients to creatures building their own shells. Secondly and most importantly the chemical reaction that takes place in this building of shells uses carbon dioxide from the ocean. Thus helping to control the amount of CO2 in the ocean, that causes ocean acidification and in turn helping the ocean absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere without becoming acidic. The oceans today absorb more than 26 per cent of man-made carbon dioxide emissions. Thus sea shells play a much larger role in combating climate change too.
There are millions of tourists visiting beaches all over the world every day, now imagine the impact if each of them picked even one shell from the beach. It is difficult to stop beachcombing and taking those beautiful shells home, but knowing what you know now, it isn’t a bad time to start leaving them be and spread the word. By law, you are not allowed to take shells or coral out of the Andamans unless they are bought at the store, but try to avoid buying them too as they contribute to these problems in the same way. If that doesn’t convince you, there is also an ancient island myth that says that bad luck befalls people who take from the ocean. Not picking shells might seem like a lonely exercise right now but I promise you will experience the joy of a clear conscience and of inspiring ten other people in the right direction.