The Toll of Tourism

Jan 13

Aside from the obvious perks of generating revenue and perpetuating jobs, tourism is not a particularly good thing. As a long-time citizen of a notorious tourist trap, I can honestly say that tourism does a lot of long-term damage to an area in terms of culture, city planning/zoning, and most importantly, the surrounding ecosystem. Consider any one of the fabulous tourism spots along either side of the Atlantic—beaches along Florida, Virginia, Maine, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, the list goes on. Now, consider the impact on those environments when every passing tourist decides to help themselvesto a seashell souvenir.

Despite the fact that most states and countries have specific regulations about taking shells from beaches, and that airports seize tons of them at checkpoints every week, seashells are still vanishing around the world as global tourism continues to increase. Despite the intent of any one individual tourist, this sentimental and bizarrely universal urge to stealseashells adds up and harms the surrounding marine habitats.

Algae, sponges and seagrass use the calcium carbonate constructions as a home base of sorts. Fish use shells to hide from predators and hermit crabs use them like chainmail armor. In addition, oyster bars and other shell formations provide an excellent source of natural water filtration and recycling.

According to a recent article by Allison Winter on, “A new study conducted by researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus and the University of Barcelona demonstrates that increased tourism on the Mediterranean coast of Spain correlated with a 70 percent decrease in mollusk shells during the tourist season in July and August and a 60 percent decrease in other months.”

“Scientists fear shell removal could cause significant damage to natural ecosystems and organisms that rely on shells,” said lead author Michal Kowalewski, the Thompson Chair of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Florida Museum.


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