Collecting Sea Shells

Shelling is easily one of everyone’s top favorite things to do while at the beach. Sure, there’s warm water to swim in and waves to ride, but there’s also nowhere else you can collect shells. Once you get the shells home, they can add a beach theme to any room, or they can sit on a shelf and serve as a reminder of the good beach memories you made on your most recent vacation.

Shells actually play a part in the lifecycle of the beach, whether you know it or not. They serve as homes and treasures for sea creatures, then get ground up with rocks and minerals to become the warm sand everyone loves to feel between their toes. So if you go to the beach this summer and take home your favorite shells, will you hurt the environment? Let’s explore that question.

Are Shells Alive?

Now, you’re probably not going on a vacation to find a fish that’s stranded on the beach and take it home as a pet, so think the same way when it comes to shells. Always double check to make sure shells you want to take home haven’t been claimed first by a crab. And that sand dollar you found in one piece? Make sure it’s not still alive. If it’s a dark brown color and leaves your fingers stained orange, put it back in the water.

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Is the Shell a Home?

This can mean a couple different things, depending on what animal you think about. The obvious first animal to use a shell as a home is a hermit crab, but they don’t set the standard for how all animals use shells. Mollusks are the reason there are so many shells on the sand, and they hardly get the credit they deserve. And there’s a lot of credit needed, since there are over 110,000 types of mollusks that create and leave behind shells.

There’s also the marine worm to consider. The marine worm will burrow into the sand most of the time and live happily below everyone’s feet. Sometimes, though, sand will get washed away and the worm will be exposed to hungry seagulls. That’s when it covers itself in shells to form armor. Most marine worms will be particularly small, but some can get up to three feet long. Don’t be the person who picks up a shell and finds themselves holding onto a worm.

Is It Helping a Creature Survive?

Not all shells have to be left on the beach because there’s a creature living inside of them. Some shells have the meat of various sea animals stuck to them, and sea gulls depend on them as their daily source of food. Other shells are meant to be buried in the sand so they can provide nutrients to creatures who live away from the water and sun.

Animals like shorebirds also use shells to create nests on the beach. While these nests aren’t lifted off the ground, it’s important that any shells surrounding tiny eggs on the beach be left alone. Shorebirds put them there to easily spot their eggs from up high, and some shorebirds that may live where you’re vacationing might be on the endangered list.

Bottom Line: Consider Your Shell Choices Carefully

When you go to the beach this summer, it’s okay to want to take home seashells after your trip ends. You won’t hurt the environment by saving a couple mementos, as long as you take a few simple precautions before you throw your bucket in the trunk of your car. Then take your time to enjoy your vacation and appreciate the wildlife all around you.