When visiting a tropical location, souvenirs such as coral jewelry and seashells are ubiquitous. And, as divers, we may be tempted to purchase one as a keepsake or reminder of a particularly fantastic trip. Despite this, it’s best to leave these marine-derived items off your shopping list and avoid these common ocean souvenirs.
It’s exciting to see shark teeth on the sea floor where apex predators have commonly shed them during the course of natural replacement. Divers frequently see teeth in locations such as the Bat Islands in Costa Rica or Sodwana Bay in South Africa. Depending on various factors such as age, diet and seasonal change, as well as the species of shark, teeth may fall out as quickly as one row per 8 to 10 days.
Unfortunately, the shark-tooth trade has been lucrative business for some time. Dealers frequently fetch up to $100 USD per tooth. Sellers can get considerably more for species such as the great white or the extinct megalodon, sometimes up to $100,000 USD for an intact jaw. It is no surprise then that sharks are sometimes killed soley for the purpose of selling their teeth for fashion trends or memorabilia. Perhaps most shocking is that many aquariums that promote shark protection have been known to sell teeth in vast quantities in their gift shops.
Given the precarious state of world shark populations, there is no reason purchase shark teeth and continue to contribute to demand. By all means search the seafloor for these wonderful trinkets, but remember the potential cost of purchasing shark teeth and the critical importance of sharks to the oceans before you buy anything.
One of the most pressing marine-conservation issues of our time is the preservation of our coral reefs. Therefore, it seems simple to comprehend that purchasing coral jewelery will undoubtedly contribute to the degradation of this precious ecosystem.
While harvesting coral is not the main contributor to reef destruction — in fact it’s fairly insubstantial compared to bleaching, dynamite fishing and other destructive activities — it seems foolish to purchase jewelery that is obviously harming the environment. Furthermore, coral is a living organism, and therefore the ethics behind its trade is dubious.
Not all corals are threatened, yet highly lucrative species such as red, pink and black corals have plummeted by over 60 percent in the last century due to dredging techniques that destroy large portions of the seafloor.
Millions of people have shells in their homes, collected from the shore or purchased in a shop. While attractive, these beautiful ornaments are also an inappropriate souvenir. We must consider that these shells provide homes for many ocean creatures, whether as part of nesting habitat for sea birds, or structural support for seagrass, algae and other microorganisms, or as shelter for crustaceans such as hermit crabs.
While it may seem that there are billions of shells in the sea, a recent study that completed 30 years of research found that the seashells on many European beaches have decreased by 60 percent over the last 30 years.
We cannot prevent everyone from collecting shells, but as divers, we must not contribute to their depletion. In terms of sharks’ teeth, corals and seashells, the best souvenir is a picture.