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- Photo via Sinac -

Four tons of seashells seized from tourists in Costa Rica

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Published on Wednesday, May 24, 2023
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff


The collection of seashells on the beaches is one of the problems that the country's coastal ecosystems face daily. It has gone almost unnoticed for decades.

According to data from the National System of Conservation Areas (Sinac), the organization in charge of managing the country's national parks, since 2021 four tons of shells have been seized from tourists.

The seizures were made mainly at immigration checkpoints at the Juan Santamarķa International Airport (SJO) located in Alajuela Province.

Of this figure, one ton was seized by immigration officials in 2021. And by last year the figure had risen to three tons.

In Costa Rica, the extraction of seashells, corals, wild plants, or even small animals such as insects is considered illegal wildlife trafficking.

Shells and coral provide calcium that allows ecosystems to be kept stable and provide nutrients for some animals and plants.

In addition, the shells help control beach erosion and allow some algae, plants, marine sponges, and other species that live attached to them.

The shells are also used as a refuge for some marine species, especially the spiral-shaped shells, essential for hermit crabs.

The shells, stones and corals, among others, provide good material for the nests of seabirds. Also, many fish use them for shelter or camouflage to mislead predators.

The increase in tourism and the increase in shell seizures is directly related, authorities said. The lack of shells on beaches causes damage such as multiple environmental changes, increased beach erosion, changes in the recycling of calcium, decrease in biodiversity and organisms, among many other negative effects.  

Wild flora and fauna are protected by Wildlife Conservation Law No. 7317. Those found guilty of keeping flora, fauna, funga and other forms of life including shells, corals, plants, and wild animals as many others, will be fined between $1,400 and $2,800. In the case of wild animals in danger of extinction or with small populations, these fines could be higher.

Additionally, the law establishes that any person who is found responsible for committing an environmental or wildlife crime could face a prison sentence of one year.

One of the biggest problems that threaten wildlife in the country is the illegal extraction of species from their natural habitat to traffick them or keep them as souvenirs or pets. 

Recently, a man of New Zealand nationality was detained by the police at the SJO airport on suspicion of wildlife trafficking.  In a detailed inspection of the man's luggage, officers found several containers and plastic bags containing various marine species. Among these were seashells and live marine mollusks.

Authorities urge tourists not to remove seashells, stones, corals or any type of wild plant or animal from public zones. In addition to reporting to line 2522-6500 any suspicion of people removing any of these marine products.

What should the government do to prevent tourists from taking shells as souvenirs?
We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments news@amcostarica.com

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