The second round of the Presidential election is scheduled for Saturday, between the top two candidates from the first round. However the candidate who came third claims there’s been a major fraud (despite international observers giving high praise to the process) and has been arguing his case in the Supreme Court all week. The Court has ordered the election be delayed until they hand down a decision, but the Electoral Commission is torn between the court order on one hand, or the Parliament and Constitution on the other telling them to go ahead – there’s much confusion about which way they will lean. Widespread protests and disruption seem likely either way.

So it seems like a good week to write a piece about seashells.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love walking on beaches and exploring what has washed in with the tide, and can’t resist going home with a few treasures in my pocket. Here, I walk on a beach sprinkled with interesting seashells every day so I have set myself some rules for collecting. After all, my baggage allowance for the flight home is limited.

My self-imposed guidelines are:

1) Just one good example of each species.

2) Don’t take shells that are inhabited.

3) Only keep shells I’ve found myself – no outsourcing to souvenir shops or schoolboys wanting to earn pocket money (because shops and schoolboys don’t follow Rule #2).

Rule #1 gets relaxed a bit because some are just too nice; a range of sizes is interesting; and I want to share some with  grandkids, but I’m inflexible on the other two.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’d have a much more interesting and diverse collection if it wasn’t for Rule #2 and hermit crabs. There’s a few beautiful species of shell that I don’t have because, no matter how soon I get to the beach after high tide or storm surge, hermit crabs have been their first. They are discerning, only taking up residence in the very best quality shells. However a colleague tells me that on his island a population explosion has caused an accommodation crisis and homeless hermit crabs have started moving into Coke bottle lids.

Ambitious hermit crabs are particularly annoying. They’re the ones who move into a shell several sizes too large and can hide around the corner when I check if there’s anyone in residence. I only find out about them when I’m half way home and start getting nipped through my pocket lining.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday I saw a species of shell that I particularly wanted, and that hermit crabs particularly like. It was lying on the beach surrounded by half a dozen hermit crabs, but was still vacant. It looked like they were having a meeting of the housing committee to decide who should move in. More likely, they were all waiting to grab it but weren’t game to move out of their current home and expose their tender parts while others with sharp nippers were watching, so it was a standoff until I dashed their hopes and pocketed their prize.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe spider conch makes the most spectacular shell I’ve seen around here. They’re too big and awkward for hermit crabs but the creature is delicious to eat so I’m competing with humans for this one. Around the island they were wiped out long ago but people still bring them back from outer reefs – piles of smashed shells on the beach are evidence of barbecues. Too bad they can’t extract dinner without destroying the shells.

I did find a small one on the beach after a storm. Its owner/builder was deceased but hadn’t entirely vacated the premises so I had to let the ants in my courtyard work on the clean-up for a few weeks before it could come inside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t know whether I’ll be able to take my small collection home. I’ve been told that Maldivian Customs will only allow you to take out shells if they were purchased from souvenir shops and have ‘Maldives’ stamped on them – this proves that they are actually from Thailand. There may also be problems at the Australian end despite my ethical collecting practices, so I’m taking plenty of photos just in case I can’t keep the real thing.






6 thoughts on “Seashells

  1. drossow2858

    Hi David, I love your close up photos of the shells. I too love walking on the beach and ‘collecting’. I need rules like you because I am not restricting my collecting in any way to date.

  2. Linda Page

    Beautiful photos. Looking forward to seeing the actual collection. Not sure about getting things out of The Maldives but I’ve brought a few suspect things in through Australian customs, including an elephant poo photo frame, by spraying with insecticide then putting in the freezer for a week. Just realised you probably don’t have a freezer?

  3. Elisha

    Hi David,

    Love your blog!
    With bringing the shells into Australia, since you’re being scrupulous with how clean they are already the main concern of Quarantine is to look for any biological remnants or contamination. So they’ll need to be declared for inspection at the airport, and unless there is plant or animal matter still attached to them then you won’t have a problem.

    There may be issues with CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) if the shells are made by protected/endangered species of animal. The full list of all species protected by CITES can be found here: (drop down box to select your location). So it’s a great opportunity to learn some taxonomy and latin names for the shells you’re finding 🙂

    Almost always any potential problem with taking shells comes from the country you are leaving, because you’re taking a part of their environment away with you so they can often be quite strict with checking for items like that.
    At the end of the day they are an animals home, to protect them from predators. Taking photos and making memories is the only sustainable and ethical way to enjoy the things we love in nature, to help ensure there is enough left for future generations to enjoy as well.

  4. Tom

    Hi David, I know it’s already 4 yrs, but im wondering,if you were able to took all the shell treasures you wanted? Haven’t you had any problems at the customs at tge airport? Thanks for your experience.

    1. davidfittell Post author

      Hi Tom, yes I did bring home a lot of treasures – tiny ones mostly, that I packed inside shoes, wrapped in clothes etc. I was more impressed about being able to get my kutuhe (coconut knife/machete) through Customs.


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