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Going a little overboard

By Staff | Apr 30, 2010

To the editor,

The words “conservationist,” “ecologist” and “environmentalist” are the words people use to justify their actions of a particular concern, whether it’s land, sea, animal or plant. I praise anyone committed to these words. Unfortunately, we sometimes go a little overboard in this commitment. Fines and jail time for collecting a live shell is really pushing the envelope. And wasting police time at that.

After reading the article in the News-Press on the ban of taking live shells on Lee County beaches, it brought back memories of when I provided live shelling trips on Sanibel’s mud flats and sand bar for serious and not-so-serious shell collectors.

When the issue of live shelling became a concern for some people on Sanibel, the City Council asked me for some input on the issue, knowing that I had been taking live shelling trips for almost 20 years before this issue came up. My suggestion was what I had been doing for those 20 years: limit the taking of live shells to two per species per person. They agreed, and that ordinance was put into effect.

Why after a few years it was changed to a ban on all live shelling I really don’t know. It made no sense to me. There is no way you can deplete the shell population by walking and collecting shells on the beach that is not their environment. They unfortunately were washed ashore because of age, sickness or weakness.

In my 20 years of shelling on the mud flats and sand bars of Sanibel, there was never a lack of shells to be found. The key word is accessibility. The mud flats and sand bars are only exposed during extreme low tides, which is the best time for live shelling. You can find shells by wading in knee-high water, but not the variety as when the bars are exposed. And very few people visit these areas, so there really isn’t a threat of over collecting live shells.

The issue of collecting live shells is not an ecological one, it’s more of a moral issue for some people. For the serious shell collector, finding a good specimen that is washed up on the beach is rare. A live specimen is the only way to know the true color pattern of the shell.

The Bailey-Mathews Shell Museum on Sanibel is a perfect example of shells that were found alive. And I’m sure there is no guilt on their part in displaying them.

Capt. Bob Sabatino