Shells in Costa Rica must remain at the beach

Shells in Costa Rica are taken continuously by travelers. They are part of our ecosystem and once you take them from the sand, you are already creating a destructive chain. Please don’t do it.

Shells play a critical role in the marine ecosystem, as they are made primarily of calcium carbonate, a compound that is essential for the survival and growth of many organisms. Calcium carbonate is a major component of the skeletal structures of corals, mollusks, and other marine invertebrates, providing the structural support necessary for their survival.

Furthermore, shells are important sources of nutrients and energy for other organisms in the ecosystem. As shells break down over time, they release calcium carbonate and other minerals into the surrounding water, which can be taken up by phytoplankton and other small organisms. These organisms are then consumed by larger predators, such as fish and marine mammals, which transfer the nutrients up the food chain.

However, the human practice of shell collecting can have negative consequences for the marine ecosystem. When people take shells from the beach, they are removing an important source of calcium carbonate from the ecosystem. This can have a ripple effect throughout the food chain, as the loss of calcium carbonate can make it more difficult for organisms to build and maintain their skeletal structures.

Moreover, excessive shell collecting can lead to the depletion of local populations of shell-bearing organisms. This can have far-reaching consequences for the ecosystem, as these organisms play important roles in nutrient cycling, habitat creation, and other ecosystem processes.

In the case of Costa Rica’s beaches, it is particularly important to avoid shell collecting, as the country has designated many of its beaches as protected areas. These areas are home to a diverse array of marine life, including many species of shells and other organisms that rely on calcium carbonate for their survival.

“Beaches are ecosystems in a constant state of destruction and construction. Waves and tides destroy the beaches, bringing sediments and organic debris to rebuild them. It is a dynamic network with a lot of energy that is in constant change and very resilient.

But things that people do, like collecting shells and other things, throw coastal ecosystems out of balance, said Rafael Gutiérrez Rojas, the Executive Director of SINAC.

What’s happening on Costa Rican beaches?

Although taking shells, stones, and corals from Costa Rican beaches is illegal, many people insist on bringing them home. While many are unaware of the environmental damage, others ignore the rules.

In fact, the University of Costa Rica says that between 2021 and 2022, officials at Guanacaste Airport took away two tons of seashells.

Meanwhile, the Juan Santamaria Airport recorded the decommissioning of one ton.

The Wildlife Conservation Law says that it is illegal to take wildlife, its parts, products, or byproducts, and move them without permission from SINAC. Due to how serious the situation was, Guanacaste Airport started a strong campaign to get the word out.

“We need tourists to know this information because once they have picked up their bag of shells, the damage is done,” stated César Jaramillo, general manager of Guanacaste Airport. Jenny Asch, Coordinator of SINAC’s Coastal Marine Program, indicated that “the increase in tourism and the decrease in seashells has resulted in multiple environmental changes, including increased beach erosion, changes in the recycling of calcium carbonate, and a decrease in biodiversity.”

She also mentioned it’s very important to “sensitize the population that visits our marine coasts to avoid these bad practices of taking shells, coral, stones and other marine resources as souvenirs.” When people go to the beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, they should know that if they take a shell or a piece of coral, they are changing the natural processes that keep marine life alive.

By respecting protected areas and refraining from shell collecting, we can help to preserve the integrity of the marine ecosystem and ensure its continued health and productivity for future generations.


Times, T. (2023, February 24). Shells Must Remain on Costa Rican Beaches. The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.

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