At the Beach — June 4, 2014 at 5:00 am

7 Facts about Seashells

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Artur Marciniec / iStock / thinkstock.com

Artur Marciniec / iStock / thinkstock.com

Many of us have paused during a walk on the beach to admire a particularly pretty seashell. Some of us have even collected a standout shell, serving as a souvenir for an unforgettable beach trip.

There’s no denying that seashells are intricately beautiful, and the fact that they are designed by nature makes them even more alluring. But there’s more to the seashell than meets the eye. Here are 7 facts about seashells.

What’s a Seashell?
Most people can identify a seashell at sight, but not everybody knows what they are or where they came from. A seashell is actually part of an animal’s body: once upon a time, that pretty shell was a sea critter’s protective outer layer. When the animal dies, the soft pieces of its body are either eaten by other animals or simply rot over time. The shell is what is left behind.

That’ll be 20 Shells
Seashells aren’t just beautiful, they can also be valuable: many places throughout the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean islands have, at one time or another, used shells as currency.

Tools of the Trade
Certain seashells seem predisposed to serving purposes beyond just looking good: strong, well-shaped shells can be used as tools. Different types of seashells can serve many different roles, like a canoe bailer, a scraper, a blade, or even a bowl.

Seashells and the Environment
Taking one or two shells from a beach probably won’t have a major impact—but if every beach goer were to take a couple of shells, the effects could be significant. Environmentalists note that taking shells from a beach can disrupt the local ecology, from increasing erosion to taking nest-building materials from birds to preventing algae from seeking shelter in the shells. The next time you see a pretty shell, take a photo, and leave it for others to enjoy, too.

It’s Not Rocket Science, It’s Just Conchology
The term “conchology” refers to the study of mollusk shells, as well as mollusk seashell collecting as a hobby. Some hobby collectors partake in shell clubs, record their shell findings, and even purchase exotic shells from faraway beaches. In the USA, shell clubs are especially popular in southern coastal states.

In the Garden
Here’s a fun fact: some seashells are an excellent source of calcium carbonate, which just so happens to be a very effective soil conditioner. As such, certain types of shells are ground down and used to increasing the calcium content of the soil while raising the pH level.

Shells in the Art World
If you’ve ever heard the powerful sound of a conch shell being blown, you’ll know that shells are nature’s trumpets. These natural wind instruments have been used for hundreds (possibly thousands) of years in areas like Japan, Tibet and the Caribbean.

Seashells also play a role in the world of fashion: there are many magnificent forms of seashell jewelry, interpreted in different ways across cultures worldwide. Maybe you even partook in the puka shell necklace fad on the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. Shells can be sewn into clothing or used to adorn dainty jewelry boxes and other household goods.

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