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Community Commentary: Just follow rules for collecting, selling shells

Hysteria and misinformation are usually difficult to defuse, but the recent letter to the editor by Anne Earhart (“Should they sell seashells at store?,” June 17) prompts me to try to give some voice to the “other” end. As a 40-year owner of a natural history gallery in town, perhaps I can explain how shells and corals can be bought and sold.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and, or CITES, is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Corals and shells are also included in this convention. There are 175 parties within the convention.

All shipments into the U.S. are inspected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Homeland Security and U.S. customs to ensure that no illegal or endangered species items are being imported. Any company not complying with the rules is fined heavily and subject to more rigorous inspections.

Coastal resources are threatened because of dynamite fishing in countries such as the Philippines and Africa, siltation, pollution, coral bleaching, clearing of shipping lanes and population explosion at the coastal areas. In some cases, coral reefs are dying due to a growing population of thorny star fish that prey on the coral. But, in most cases it is people who are contributing to ocean destruction — not by fishing (pay attention City Council) or collecting, but by the daily act of throwing plastic products into storm drains, which in turn wash out to sea, harming all sea life. Plastic easily becomes wedged into reefs and corals. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the best example.


Years’ worth of plastic that was bottles, bags, toys, packaging and plastic trash from all over the earth is swirling in a whirlpool in the North Pacific. Discarded water bottles from Iowa, takeout containers from New York City, flip-flops from California and plastic debris from the world over make their way from land into storm drains, streams, rivers and other waterways. They are carried out to sea, where they break down into small pieces of plastic and get trapped in swirling ocean currents. The patch is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.

Collecting of corals and shells is not new — in the 1700s and 1800s people of “distinction” and “royalty” gathered together what were called cabinets of curiosities featuring every conceivable object from nature. Most of them were brought back to the European countries from exploring expeditions. The study of the natural sciences is an ongoing program and hobby and scientists often have amateur collectors to credit for bringing new species to the table because these collectors are in the field and not in a laboratory.

I am not claiming that every single shell or coral is collected legally — in any society, with anything collectible, there will always be those who can’t seem to abide by the rules and quality of fairness. But, I think I can speak for any gallery owner in town when I say that all of us abide by the rules. There is nothing in my own gallery that has been obtained illegally, and we adhere to the edicts of the CITES agreement.

Corals and shells are wonderful and beautiful objects to collect or display and by buying and selling responsibly we can continue to enjoy them. Anyone has the choice to own them or not.


DONA LEICHT owns Kristalle in Laguna Beach.