Shellcraft: OT but Eco-Relevant

Nov 20, 2002
This is basically off-topic, but I thought that since it is ecologically relevant, some of you marine biology experts out there could give me an answer, or at least an opinion.

I am trying to learn jewelry making -- not fancy stuff, but mostly costume jewelry, decorative crafts, and prayer beads. In addition to other (non-organic) materials, I would also like to use seashells, crustacean parts, driftwood, and other gifts of Great Poseidon's bounty.

We are not easily accessible to the beach, and anyway the public beaches in our general area are unfortunately marred by manmade detritus such as beverage cans, bits of plastic and paper, etc. (Yuck!) Therefore I would like to try getting supplies from eBay and other online sources.

However, I wonder how ecologically sound this would be. I don't know what species of shellfish are endangered in the US and other parts of the world which supply these stores. I know that many reefs are endangered, so I also wonder about the advisability of using coral (unless it is recycled from vintage items). Additionally, I have heard that in some of the world's poorer countries, divers risk their lives to harvest dangerous species such as Cone Shells, and are compensated with ridiculously low fees by the importers (similar to Third World sweatshops where some expensive US sneaker brands used to be made). And I do not want to support either the depletion of endangered species, or exploitation of my poverty-stricken fellow humans.

Do these abuses still take place? If so, how can they be avoided (IF they can be avoided) by shellcrafters who don't have ready access to clean beaches? If the already-empty dwellings are harvested from beaches, that would be OK. Or, if the the shells and carapaces are by-products of food use -- assuming that they are not endangered -- that's OK too. And of course I would not use any ceph parts (gladii, beaks, hooks, Nautilus or Argonaut shells) unless they were gleaned from already-dead animals.

I already have several shells at home, but most of them are too large, broken, or otherwise unsuitable for use in creative projects. Before I buy any new ones, I would like some input from the TONMO experts so I will be sure to "Do the Right Thing."

Your friendly neighborhood were-squid,
ecological and human-friendly natural resources

Hello Tani

I'm interested to hear about what you have learned on this topic. My work is related to anti-sweatshop work. Cephalopod-fancying is just a hobby. I'll ask around among people who might know more about labor conditions whether there is anything like "Fair Trade" for those who gather these materials.

Hello Tani,

This is what my friend who knows how to go about finding information on labor conditions:

"About the shell-gathering -- if the people doing this work are interested in applying consumer pressure to improve conditions in that industry, what they should do is find out who they're making the jewelry for (which country is it exported to, which companies) and then you know who to target with pressure. If you have any contacts with people at development organizations you might want to check with them on this, since the shell gathering for jewelry sounds very much like one of those income-generating projects that development groups often get involved in."

It may be more work than you'd anticipated but if you know where your shells are from, I can probably ask the right people about working conditions for their suppliers.

Thanks, Melissa. I think what I might do is ask suppliers right up front (on eBay or direct from the net) what the source of their shells is. I get a catalog from the organization SERRV International

which sponsors workers in developing nations, marketing their handmade goods to improve the workers' economic status. They have lovely stuff, but they sell completed products (art, jewelry, etc.) rather than raw materials.

My main concerns in this area were (a) whether the animals were killed just for the use of the shells; (b) whether collecting materials such as coral depleted the undersea environment (e.g., reefs); and (c) whether indigenous divers placed themselves at risk by collecting live cone shells or the like.

I guess what I'm trying to find out is what specific questions I should ask the suppliers before buying from them. I am not a vegetarian, so if the shells were a by-product of food use -- assuming they are not from endangered species -- that would not be a problem for me.

I think your friend might have assumed that I myself am starting a major shell-gathering business for import or whatever. This is not the case. I would like to purchase shells so that I -- just myself -- may make jewelry and gifts to sell on eBay or from a website of my own. In other words, I alone would be buying raw materials to make the items which I alone will be selling.

If you or your friend know of any wholesalers which sell shells (NOT ready-made jewelry) that are not gathered from endangered areas or exploitive industries, please let me know. If not, I will stick to the plan of asking suppliers about their source. (On eBay, there are often notations that shells were gathered by the seller, or that they were part of an estate sale -- either of which would be a good, non-exploitive source.)

Many thanks again, and please inform me if you know of any specific environmentally and socially responsible shell wholesalers.

Cool idea Tani, some of 'Poseidon's bounty' is very beautiful indeed. I'm sorry to hear Bikini Bottom is mared by the usual detritus;

:spongebo: "What, why's everyone looking at me?"

Guess there's not such a market for beer can necklaces :?

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