2007/10/11 17:27:10

Sea Shells

I thought I read somewhere that you can't bring them back to the US. Is that true? Of course I would never take one with a live animal in it. But in Florida I collect them all the time and it's ok. No one seemed to mind in Nicaragua either.
ceedee 2007/10/11 17:35:48
Absfam did a lot of research - got info from both the US and Mexican goverment - as outlined in Absfam's posts in this thread:


Basically, from the Mexican government, Absfam was told:

We can´t respond affirmatively your request, because our legislation does not allow extraction of units, parts or derivatives from wild life including seashells from beaches. In that case you need to transact a permit of harvesting with "Comisión Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca" in the next link: http://www.conapesca.sagarpa.gob.mx/wb/

We hope this information is useful for you.
JD 2007/10/11 17:37:04
I don't think there are any restrictions on taking them into US. There are sometimes restrictions on taking them FROM the place in which you find them. There are no restrictions that I know of near Akumal. ON the other hand, there are some issues about removing something that is or could be a home to some critter.

Typically I would let the kids take shells found on shore that are empty, but no shells from seabed. Some will tell you to take nothing. When we are in a protected area, we don't take anything. Generally, there aren't many nice shells around Akumal anyway.
Iguana Mama 2007/10/11 17:39:54
JD--there are restrctions everywhere in Mexico, including Akumal. Shells, coral, etc. are not supposed to be taken out of Mexico. And it is illegal to remove anything from the water.
peggeyday 2007/10/11 17:40:25
Thanks. I'll bet it's ok to take a few tiny shells - empty of course.
Iguana Mama 2007/10/11 17:43:19
Customs will probably not do anything if they find some small shells in your stuff--but it's technically not okay. I know most folks do it though.
JD 2007/10/11 18:25:01
Oh No!!! I'm a criminal. I stand corrected on the legality of seashells from Mexico.

Well, I'm not going to stop the kids from taking home vacant sea shells and coral they find on the beach. (Don't tell anyone but I have a small piece of coral on my desk I use for a paperweight). Most aren't even intact and I am pretty sure customs won't care and doubt any of the luggage searchers at the airport care either. I won't take things form marine preserves and such and never take stuff from the sea anyway.

I have to say I get a kick out of some of the laws here and abroad. According to the letter of the law, my kid can't take a piece of broken seashell from a beach, but the jewelry store down the street will sell stuff made from sea shells that were "harvested" from the sea and from endangered black coral.

Actually, the only thing I really like to collect from the seashore is "sea glass" and it isn't protected, so I doubt I will be going to prison. Now let's see, where is that catalog advertising red coral earrings for my wife........
Iguana Mama 2007/10/11 18:27:44
I agree about the coral jewelry. Of course, if folks stopped buying it--they'd stop making it!!
kipp28 2007/10/11 18:55:10
Technically it is srtictly illegal to remove shells of any kind from the beaches of Mexico, conch has particular laws......will you be stopped at customs, maybe, maybe not but it is illegal. Best bet is to go to Florida and do your shelling there and leave what you see in the already resource depleted Yucatan for generations to come or until they change the rules. Have fun looking only.............[:D]
kipp28 2007/10/11 18:58:31
No you won't go to prison, but that isn't the point the point is that 20 years ago it was ok to eat turtle, or pick coral from the reef, today in some places it's still ok to play with and pet the monkeys with no regard to transmitting disease to yourself or more importantly to them. Seashells are just one more resource for the millions of visitors to pluck away at, think of the areas future and maybe just look and enjoy.....grab all the sea glass you want!
peggeyday 2007/10/11 19:13:46
Things really are different in the states. We go to Sanibel FL every year and it's ok to pick up all the shells you want. You can even take 2 live ones (I would NEVER do that) per day, I've heard. There seem to be millions of shells on the beach on Sanibel so I never thought it was an issue. Shell collecting is like treasure hunting to me, but I guess I'll have to skip it in Akumal.
kipp28 2007/10/11 19:29:15
Hey Cayo Costa is my families one and only Fl. destination, shelling is a blast and our house is littered with them! [:D]
peggeyday 2007/10/11 19:41:53
ORIGINAL: kipp28

Hey Cayo Costa is my families one and only Fl. destination, shelling is a blast and our house is littered with them! [:D]

Interesting. I went there once and there weren't any shells at all. The water was beautiful though - totally clear.
BlueBeachLady 2007/10/11 19:48:28
peg, you won't mind the "No shelling" thing in Akumal. Compared to Sanibel, there are NO shells in Akumal! (Plenty of other beauty...) Yep, I've had the "Sanibel Stoop"! [:D]
kipp28 2007/10/11 19:52:28
Well you have to visit the west side of the island by the cabins and campgrounds, it is NOTHING but seashells!
Badger 2007/10/12 05:54:55
My wife loves beachcombing and especially finding seashells, in fact she brought a few small shells home from a remote beach near Akumal two years ago, but.....we asked a panga captain last year about where we could find a beach where we might pick up a few small shells, what he basically told us is that the reason you so seldom find shells is that many of the locals pick up virtually every shell they find to sell to other locals, who in turn sell them to the touristas in one form or another.
That made sense to me because early one morning I saw a security guard at the ABR picking up a shell and putting in his pocket...and just think of those poor fellas who rake the beaches every morning. I'm sure that they don't make a lot of money from the few shells that they find, but any extra income is probably most welcome.
So the next time you are tempted to pick up a shell, please stop and think about the little extra money you might be taking away from some local. I know we will never do it again.

florida girl 2007/10/12 08:43:18
Now you got into my territory! South of Sanibel hit Englewood, Palm Island... Sharks teeth by the hand full. My beach is on the east coast and there is crap for shells anymore, guess all OUR tourists took em!

I too am a criminal , I had no idea and brought home a bagful of broken coral pieces to make a windchime, oops... But the sea glass is my fave!
kipp28 2007/10/12 09:19:57
You are busted! [;)]
Audbaby 2007/10/12 10:04:07
Bahamas had so many amazing shells and incredible conch shells and the huge big round, puffy sand dollars. All this was washed up on the sand. I brought back so many and washed up pieces of coral. Made a beautiful bowl with the sand I brought home and shells.

I too am looking at one of the conch shells I keep on my desk here at work.

Oooops. Don't call the shell cops on me please. I treasure all the goodies I found and everytime I look at them, I have great memories.

Bermuda had no shells. My daughter found 1 tiny one. That was it.
Billiam 2007/10/12 10:46:28

First of the facts. It is illegal to havest any LIVE animals from Sanibel. Who ever told you otherwise lied.

In areas of Mexico (and Florida) it is illegal to harvest certain species (LIVE animals) without a licence.

Collecting fossil sharks teeth on the beach is a fun hobby. But you can only collect invertabrates and sharks. You must have a permit to collect vertibrate fossils in Florida.

I have not seen any fossils in the Maya Riviera.

Removing shells from the Mexican beach is illegal, but I have never seen it enforces. Resorts spend a lot of time and man-power raking rocks, weed and shells off the beaches. Most of which gets tossed into refuse piles. The resorts do this in order to improve the "aesthetics" of the beach for the tourists. But it a wooden-headed and environmentaly damaging practice. The seaweed, and rcks help hold sand on the beach. The weed also is a source of food for many different species and old dead shells are also used and recycled by living organisms. If possible please refrain from "beach grooming".

I have broken the law and removed shells from the beaches in Mexico. I did not take live animals. Rather most of my time is spent sifting through large mounds of dried sargasso at the top of the wrack. It is here where you will find the better shells and the ones that are not inhabited by hermit crabs and other fauna. Most shell that I recover are less than 1/2 inch in size. Tere is a great variety of shell available if you take the time to learn them and the time to sitt and sift and look for them. Idlely walking the beach and hoping to find a nice shell is rare, you have to look. Customs did not raise an eye when we had are bags inspected to leave.

Be very very careful about what you try to bring in to your home country. Again I have not had any trouble with US Customs. But if you inadvertantly get any part of a species that is protected under the Comprehensive International Treaty on Endanged Species (CITES) you will be looking at a major felony. For instance, if you find part of a turtle egg shell or rare bird feather....big trouble. Know your species.

The "huge round puffy sand-dollars" are sea biscuits. They are related to the sand dollar in that they are echinoderms. Like sand dollars they are covered with fine spines, but they live on the sea floor and eat algae off ot the turtle grass. Sand dollars also eat algae but use the thin shape to bury themselves in the fine sand bottom.


laundre 2007/10/12 11:35:03
Billiam!! So good to hear from you!
You are a wealth of information that is interesting and amusing. Thanks.

I will assume your healing progresses?
canusa 2007/10/12 11:40:44
So small shells are OK. Always like to take a souvenire home freom the beaches we visit.

JD 2007/10/12 13:19:56
The shells aren't the problem...it's how to get some good Cuban rum back home without risking a huge fine or worse that troubles me.
crunch 2007/10/12 13:26:55
Uffda is in BIG trouble - LOL! [;)][;)][;)]
canusa 2007/10/12 13:30:29
Know what your talking about. I've been to Cuba 9 times, late 80's and 90,s. I am Canadian, transplanted and now live in Houston hence I now need to travel to MEXICO. Drank lot's of cuban Rum[:)][:o]
Cuba is a beautiful country,but I am so looking forward to my first trip to the Mayan Riviera this Nov. Can't bring home rum but hey there all that good tequila.

crazybnch7 2007/10/12 14:40:34
I over the years have collected some and taken them home....I certainly thing there are greater risks to the environment that one can focus on or feel guilty over than collecting the occassional shell from a beach....I would certianly say that you should never even consider removing anything alive from the shore or ocean.
Audbaby 2007/10/12 14:47:15
ORIGINAL: crazybnch7

I over the years have collected some and taken them home....I certainly thing there are greater risks to the environment that one can focus on or feel guilty over than collecting the occassional shell from a beach....I would certianly say that you should never even consider removing anything alive from the shore or ocean.


Someone is going to get the shells that wash up...might as well be me. I'm not gonna have someone pick em up and then sell them to me in a store because that is the only place I can find a sea shell.

Most people are respectful and don't pillage...we all would just like to bring home a little memory of our wonderful vacation.

Just my opinion.
cindyd 2007/10/12 15:16:48
One member asks if it's legal to take shells home, and when told it's not, replies with I'll bet it's OK if they are small. Others chime in with if it's not alive, or not endangered, or if the employee at customs don't care, or whatever. None of those make it OK. We are guests of a foreign country that tells us not to collect and take shells home. If it wasn't so sad, your rationalizations would be funny.

Some people will do the right thing, and others have such a strong sense of entitlement that they will do what they want to do, regardless of the law. Some of those will rationalize breaking the law, others will admit they just don't care.

If you can't have memories of your vacation without taking a shell home from Mexico, why not just buy one at the gift shop? What's it going to cost, a whole $2?
kipp28 2007/10/12 16:07:43
Thank you so very, very, very much Cindy, you could not be more correct, self entitlement is the answer to everything today. Whether you buy them at a gft shop or pick them up along the beach it is still not right and it is illegal in Mexico. Conch shells or any part of them are protected under CITES and all shells alive or dead are not to be removed from Mexican waters or beaches.

I'm not sure what needs to be done to stress this point any further, just venting! [:D]
kipp28 2007/10/12 16:14:33
Buying them at a gift shop, like buying Conch (strictly illegal under CITES) is just as illegal as picking them up along the shore. You may be supporting a local, but you are doing so only in the same fashion as buying turtle soup, fresh lobster at a local restaurant out-of-season, you are perpetuating an illegal activity and while to the benefit of a few pesos to a local you are taking one more step in depleting the resources that all of us, our kids and grandkids should be able to enjoy.

Is that a strong statement, yes, but I've seen this happening along this coast for many, many years, those that enjoy themselves, donate to the libraries and speak out for local conservation, take the turtle walks and support this or that, yet have no respect for the most basic tenants of this stunning coastline!
SnorkelFish 2007/10/12 16:18:20
Thanks Kipp and Cindy! I'll add my support to your statements!
JD 2007/10/12 16:28:20
Well, if Mexican law prohibits removing seashells from the beach then is there really any difference in picking it up yourself or paying someone else to do it? If we want to be strict constructionists about this, then the best thing we can do is collect them ourselves so that we aren't encouraging others to commit crimes and involving them in our criminal ways.

Some common sense is in order here. A 3" piece of broken, bleached coral lying on the beach above water line is not a threat to the environment and not the intent of any laws. A similarly small shell or piece of shell are also not what anyone cares about. You shouldn't take conch shells or other large shells that may be a home to a crab or other creature, or take any living critters. I personally don't think anything should be taken from the sea bed, but if you find a shell or piece of coral in those lumps of seaweed and trash that line the beach south of the ABR, or find half a clam shell on the beach, who cares? The Mexican government won't care and either will U.S. Customs, I promise.

I also cannot accept that taking a small piece of dead coral, a sea urchin skeleton or a small shell is harmful to the environment. As someone else pointed out, if you don't pick it up it is likely to get raked up, tossed in a truck and dumped somewhere with the seaweed.

I have to go now; my turtle soup is ready and I need to put away my elephant ivory chess set before I eat, or my pet monkey will get into it and scatter the pieces all over the jaguar hide rug. That always upsets the parrot that I smuggled back from Guatemala. Last time he got so upset that he pooped all over my water boa boots and I used up most of my whale oil getting them back in shape.
kipp28 2007/10/12 16:45:01
LOL, JD you are correct and you have me laughing here whole heartedly with that last paragraph I think, BUT, the majority of people wouldn't know a broken piece of bleached coral from a conch shell, so advocating hands off is a good thing for the whole. If a few just have to pick up some pieces which they will, that's the way it's going to be, if you must buy a shell from a stand cause you think you're righteously donating to the local economy, well fine. But educating most that hands off is the best for the future, well, that's fine

JD 2007/10/12 16:49:03
I prefer to take pictures anyway, but I figured I needed to back up my kid who loves his jar full of bits and pieces of shell and coral and glass he has found on beaches over the years.

(He keeps it on his turtle-shell end table)
peggeyday 2007/10/12 17:11:22
Holy Cow, I never thought this would be such a controversial subject. I'm bummed because I know my grandchildren would love to pick up shells, but I will tell them NO. We will buy them.
kipp28 2007/10/12 17:28:03
Holy cow is right LOL Listen, if they need to pick up a couple ya might as well let them get their jollies instead of buying them, by buying them you're only encouraging locals to keep selling them to all the visitors illegally. Isn't it a vicious cycle, far more importantly, Go Packers!
absfam 2007/10/12 17:44:06

Really, don't worry to much. Yes it is illegal. But. . . . if you are used to getting shells in Sanibel, don't worry. What you find in Akumal is dismal and not much worth taking home anyway. It will make you appriciate Sanibel for what it offers (glorious shells, freely encouraged to be taken) and Akumal for what it offers-great beach, awesome snorkeling and great food!
Iguana Mama 2007/10/12 18:15:47
Can we end this thread before it starts getting REALLY ugly?? The original question was about the legality of bring shells into the US. While it is not illegal to bring them into the US, it is illegal to take them out of Mexico. Question answered.
peggeyday 2007/10/12 18:26:43
ORIGINAL: Iguana Mama

Can we end this thread before it starts getting REALLY ugly?? The original question was about the legality of bring shells into the US. While it is not illegal to bring them into the US, it is illegal to take them out of Mexico. Question answered.

Thanks Iguana Mama, I agree with you. I just wanted to know what the rules are and I won't be taking any sea shells out of Mexico.
kipp28 2007/10/12 19:00:37
Oh I would hope it wouldn't get ugly, I mean really in the grand scheme of things down here seashells off the beach are really on the bottom of the priority list and yes they are nothing like Sanibel.

There are certain shells though (i.e. conch) that are forbidden to cross customs into the US by the international CITES accord and according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The international transport of any conch shell, whole or partial is illegal without a permit, including the ones you can buy at local stands throughout the Yucatan. So much though customs will ignore or overlook, with the exception of your shoes and Cuban cigars!
Kitchop 2007/10/12 19:41:41
I was in Akumal in June with my sister memaid, Chopperita. We were there to enjoy snorkeling in the beautiful turquoise sea, swimming with the turtles, drinking margaritas, eating ceviche, meeting great people, swimming with the sea creatures, etc. [I know, I know....eating ceviche may seem a bit, um, unmermaidlike, but yum!]

We are very aware that the reef is alive, that turtles were nesting and that we should not remove anything, including shells, from the ecosystem, especially anything in the water. We had also heard that it was illegal to remove shells from Mexico and bring them home to Brooklyn.

So, one night we were just walking along all blissed out on our way back to our room at the ABR after our fair share of margaritas and.....Chopperita found a small conch shell laying on the sidewalk near the steps to our building. I can't remember the building number, 6 or 7 -- the building right next to the dining room. It was our first stay at the ABR so I'm not sure of the building number.

Anyway, she practically tripped over or stepped on this cute little perfect shell. So, she picked it up. We deliberated briefly and decided maybe somebody dropped it. So, Chopperita decided it was harmless to take it back to our room since it was on the sidewalk way far from the sea. Okay, thankfully, in Akumal, nothing is actually very far from the sea, but anyway....She took it. She took the shell.

We slept the whole 14 days we were at the ABR with the air conditioning off and the air and sound from the sea coming through our screen door soothing us. It was really blissful sleeping. But one night it was super windy and the screen door to the balcony kept blowing open. We kept getting up to close it over and over and over again. It got to be pretty slapstick funny. It would not stay closed. The wind was that strong that night. So finally, did we decide to just close it and turn on the air conditioning instead? NO. We decided that if the screen blew open again, what was the worst that could happen? Some creature could end up in our room? An iguana on the bed or a bird on the head? We took that risk. The next time it blew open, we both just rolled over and let it stay open for the rest of the night.

But once during that night, before giving up on keeping the screen door closed, I got up and found something strange hanging on the screen. It was dark and I couldn't immediately figure out what it was. At first I thought it was a huge tropical bug. I hoped not. Because it was big for a bug. Then it dropped off the screen making a loud noise and Chopperita realized what it was! --- It was that little cute conch shell that Chopperita had picked up from the sidewalk earlier that night.

While we were trying to sleep, the shell had made it's way down off the table, across the floor and was climbing up the screen trying to escape to, presumably, find its way back to the beach and/or sea. The shell fell off the screen and then the shell ran across the balcony (we were on the second floor) and then the shell dropped to the ground below. At this point, we realized that shells make good homes for creatures even if they are not the original homeowners and that this shell definitely had a current tenant. It really drove home how everything is part of the ecosystem in ways that we don't always anticipate.

We tried to find the shell below to see if it needed help, but couldn't find it. So we like to thinkhope that the strong-willed creature inside is now back where it wanted to be. And we learned why it's not good to pick up shells even if it seems harmless because it could be some creature's home. It's hard to understand how, after watching so many episodes of Sponge Bob, we did not see that shell coming! But lesson learned.

And that's the end of my Akumal shell story. Except to say that that shell's determination is my inspiration to find my way back to Akumal as soon as possible.

-- Kitchop
Iguana Mama 2007/10/12 19:51:26
That was a hermit crab in the shell. They make their homes in uninhabited shells, moving to bigger ones as they grow.
Kitchop 2007/10/12 20:13:18
ORIGINAL: Iguana Mama

That was a hermit crab in the shell. They make their homes in uninhabited shells, moving to bigger ones as they grow.

Yes, we realized in the middle of that wacky night that it was a hermit crab inside the shell. But we didn't realize when we picked up the little shell from the sidewalk (not from the sea or the beach) that it had a live crab inside. Mother nature definitely taught us something that day and she chose a very amusing way to teach us. Did I mention that I'm a city mermaid from Brooklyn, NY? [;)]
Iguana Mama 2007/10/12 21:33:37
Sometimes you can't tell that there's something in them--and your story makes a very good point of that.
kipp28 2007/10/12 21:39:08
That's a great story Brooklyn mermaid! That little crab sounds like it found it's chance and bolted LOL. See how a topic like this can turn into a wonderful little "sponge Bob" story!
cindyd 2007/10/12 23:34:39
Anybody know of any sites that list the laws...in English? It is easy for me to look up ordinances in my home town, but I couldn't find any websites that posted this law in Mexico. Without reading the actual law to see how it is worded, it is hard to tell. The link that was posted said a permit could be obtained. Lots of things are legal with permits and illegal without. It may be inaccurate to just say that buying them is illegal, period. I assumed that since tourists don't have permits, it is illegal for tourists to collect or bring them home, but it would be legal for locals (with permits) to do so...that was the only reason I suggested that if you can't live without taking one back you should buy it. I suspect that like here, there are many laws in the books to protect people's incomes, probably more than there are to protect species that are not endangered.

Every shell we saw that was intact had a hermit crab in it. We did see bits and chips that neither the crabs nor the tourists would want, but all the decent shells were already occupied.

Now an almost OT Q...since I have been out of the loop for a while and didn't know that part about conch shells. I have a queen conch shell I bought for $3 in the Bahamas 15 years ago, before the CITES law. Is just their transport and trade illegal now, or owning them at all? If it never moves off of my classroom shelf, is it legal, and if not, what should I ethically do with it now, if I can't ship it back to the Bahamas?

And does that mean nobody is eating conch fritters or conch stew in the Bahamas anymore, or is the meat still legal but transporting the shells not? That would be ludicrous, but then again, many laws are...
Iguana Mama 2007/10/13 08:46:47
In Mexico, there are different laws for the locals than there are for us tourists, regarding fishing, etc. This , of course, allows sustenance for the locals.
Regarding you conch shells--I have some that are MANY years old also. And I don't kow if they are still eating conch in the Bahamas--haven't been there for years. But I know it used to be on every menu EVERYWHERE, and I was always amazed at the piles & piles, and piles of empty conch shells that were everywhere. I wondered back then how long it would be before conch would be fished out.
greekbeachgirl 2007/10/13 09:11:38
but if EVERY visitor did that on EVERY trip...consider the ramifications...[8|]

I also cannot accept that taking a small piece of dead coral, a sea urchin skeleton or a small shell is harmful to the environment. As someone else pointed out, if you don't pick it up it is likely to get raked up, tossed in a truck and dumped somewhere with the seaweed.
cindyd 2007/10/13 10:00:13
That's exactly the same reason people shouldn't pick "just one" small flower from a park or a private garden, pick up any acorns or anything else in parks or even collect "souvenirs" in unprotected areas...beyond the law there are just too many of us and nothing would be left for others that follow us to enjoy. [:)]
ScubaBum 2007/10/13 12:27:09
Regarding conch in the Bahamas:

Fishing and Diving Regulations
Having paid fees on entry, every vessel would have received a valid fishing permit from the Customs officials. Licenses issued to individuals are not sufficient when fishing from a boat. Fishing gear is restricted to hook and line and you may not fish with more than six rods at a time. Bag limits are as follows:

* Lobster or crawfish: six tails per person, at any time. Annual closed season is April 1 to July 31. Minimum size limits are 3 3/8 inch carapace length or six inches tail length. Egg-bearing female crawfish are protected.
* Conch: Harvesting and possession of conch without a well-formed lip is prohibited. Bag limit at any time is 10 per person.
* Wahoo/Dolphin/Kingfish: Six fish per person, any combination.
* Stone crabs: Closed season is June 1 to October 15. Minimum harvestable claw is four inches. Harvesting of female prohibited.
* Turtle: Illegal to import; although legal to eat in The Bahamas.
* Spearfishing: Hawaiian sling is the only approved spearfishing device. Use of Scuba gear or an air compressor to harvest fish, conch, crawfish and other marine animals is prohibited. Spearfishing is not allowed within one mile off the coast of New Providence, within one mile off the south coast of Freeport, Grand Bahama and within 200 yards off the coast of all Out Islands. Spearing or taking marine animals by any means is prohibited within national sea parks.
* Vessel Bag Limit: 20 pounds of scalefish, 10 conch and six crawfish per person may be exported from The Bahamas.

I know, I dive and harvest conch all the time when in waters I can do that. I LOVE cracked conch. Since I free-dive for Abalones at home - it only makes sense that I free-dive for conch in the Caribbean. There are TONS of conch in the ocean. You should see the NorthEast side of Grand Turk! It is NOT protected waters and the conchs are crawling on top of each other, 2 feet thick. As long as you follow the fishing regulations i.e. size, lip formation etc. you will be fine. Take ONLY what you will eat. and don't try to bring the shells home.[;)]
crazybnch7 2007/10/13 16:29:06
scubabum...why if you are allowed to fish for and eat the conch you are not allowed to keep the shell...is there something I am missing in all of this?
Iguana Mama 2007/10/13 18:32:18
Well, if you kept the shell, you couldn't really prove that YOU ate the conch. You could just be grabbing all the conch in order to sell the shells. Just a guess.

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