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Rachel Delahanty, Co-Editor a in Chief

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Spring break has come to a close, and for some Olathe North students and faculty that went to the beach to escape the never ending winter, their tropical destination is a thing of the past. At any beach, shells are found all over whether it be in the water, in the sand, or in souvenir shops. Although a shell necklace can seem like a good keepsake, what most people don’t know is that molluscs inside of those shells are being killed at an alarming rate.

Glittered, painted, dyed—you name it, it’s been done to hundreds of thousands of creatures that once lived in the sea and this trend is becoming concerning for shelled creatures of all kinds. Although it seems like a shell would be the perfect souvenir to remind you of the sunkissed times, the role of molluscs is very crucial in ecosystems around the world. “Every species is important to an ecosystem as a whole. The deletion of one species can cause a ripple effect, wreaking havoc for many other species,” said Animal Health Senior Julia Sketers.

Molluscs include species such as snails, slugs, clams, mussels, squid and octopi. Although each species is being affected by humans in their own way, the animals that inhabit seashells stand out as victims of mindless destruction of marine life. No one is certain of the exact amount of shells that are traded and sold annually, but it’s thought that around 5,000 species are targeted each year.

Sea shells are good for more than a decorative covering on a picture frame or bracelet. According to a National Geographic article written by Tina Deines, the living animals inside them serve “a variety of ecological roles, including providing an anchorage for epiobonts like algae that provide food for marine like ad for filter-feeding barnacles, which help clean the water.” They also provide food for animals such as turtles and a keystone species: sharks. A keystone species is a species that an ecosystem is largely dependent on in maintaining balance. It can be hard for the species to gain attention when there are thousands of species on the endangered list, however the outcome of forgetting them would leave ecosystems a wreck. 

            The article further states, that the main reason why there has been a decrease in molluscs in seas worldwide, is the harvesting of the animals for commercial use. The life after capture for them is very short lived and far from human. First, heaps of recently caught molluscs are laid out in the sun to dry. “Next up for the seashells: a dunking for a few hours in large vats of oil and acid to clean them.” Later, any imperfection on the shell is scraped off to be thrown into another vat of oil. Finally, the shells go through a round or two of polishing before being decorated for whatever purpose they are chosen to serve. This entire process starts with the shells very much alive. Before the shells get dunked in oil, one of the most devastating methods of harvesting the shells takes place. A common practice used by fishermen looking to gain hundreds of marine life in a short time is called bottom trawling. Bottom trawling involves a giant net dragging across the sea floor, decimating any sea creatures along the way. All living habitats are smashed, uprooted, and smothered as the sea bed is turned over.

            “Only a few species—notably the queen conch, the chambered nautilus, the giant clam, and a few species of snails—are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),” states Deines. Different countries have differing rules and regulations regarding the ability to harvest molluscs. Even those who have a permit to fish for molluscs disregard species that are threatened. The main way to stop this is to decrease the demand for decorative shells. One alternative craft that can be made to replicate the structure and look of a mollusc is glass blown “shells”. They mimic the beauty of a seashell without taking a toll on the ocean ecosystems.

Life without molluscs is uncertain. Without a doubt, marine ecosystems would be unable to function with the absence of them. Although it may seem that something as small as a mollusc is insignificant, life would look much different without them. So, the next time you find yourself in a knick knack souvenir shop, ask the shop owners where the shells came from. If they don’t know, there’s a good chance they were harvested unethically.