Balinese women collect shells to sell to tourists

When I was growing up in Australia, we caught our own bait for fishing. 

Pippi-shells wiggled out of the beach, worms dug up from the mud, prawns drifting down the channel on the night tide. Dad used to shine a torch on the water and I would scoop them into a net. There used to be quite a few when I was eight. Less when I was twelve. And by the time I was a teenager, there were none at all.

This was our small contribution to the decimation of local sea-life. We didn’t know the prawns were drifting in to breed on the sand banks of Lake Macquarie where we lived, 90 miles north of Sydney.

Older and now well travelled, I’ve seen humans catching marine life-be it prawns, squid, sharks or tuna – all over the world. But what about the shells. Oh the shells!

Helmet shells for sale in Dar-es-Salaam

Lined up on waterfront stalls —–helmet shells in Zanzibar, trochus shells in Tahiti, nautilus in Indonesia, turtle-shell jewellery in Sri Lanka, puffer-fish lamps in New Caledonia, corals in Sinai, cowries in Fiji, dried sea-horses in the Philippines.

The rape of the ocean’s marine life is out of control. The oil-leak in the Gulf of Mexico may kill a few hundred turtles, but it is nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the numbers of creatures being harvested in developing countries to satisfy Asian peccadilloes and tourist greed.


Buying a turtle-shell bangle in Seychelles

About Travels with My Hat

Australian photojournalist and author. Used London as a base for nearly forty years while freelancing in the Middle East, Arabian peninsular, Africa and South Asia. Have written and illustrated more than a dozen books and travel guides. Operates a well regarded religious images stock photo library: Live in Leura in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
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  1. Mimi Forsyth says:

    It's to wonder if there are any shells (and the creatures who inhabited them) left in the Philippines

  2. A.M.A says:

    "Shell shocked" to read of the problems facing the marine life in the oceans for the reasons so clearly given

  3. Anonymous says:

    The Philippines is one of the world's worst offenders in harvesting and selling sea-shells. I do not think I've ever seen so many shells for sale made into curtains, lamp-shades, jewellery, tiles, boxes – you name it. There is even one website inviting people on a "dive and shell collecting trip". The country is a disgrace!

  4. Jules says:

    I think people are supposed to have a licence now in australia, to collect shells – perhaps of a particular type such as cowries. There was a fashion to coat empty fruit tins with cement and press shells into the surface, then lacquer the object. Heavy and ugly, even viewed from a 9 yr old's perspective. Yes, the things people do…

  5. C.O. says:

    Thanks for yr comment. Surely one doesn't need licence to collect shells on a beach? But of course how can it be proven they were not plucked out of the sea? I feel huge regret on behalf of a giant black cowrie, I spotted while diving in Tahiti. It sits in my bathroom, but I cannot look at it without a feeling of guilt. How long had it lived on 'that' reef? Those were the ignorant days of the 1960s but sadly the internet is riddled with adverts of people selling sea-shells.

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