Taking natural curios and knick knacks, like shells, urchin shells, crab carapaces, out of the country is environmentally unfriendly. Everyday at resorts, one observes tourists strolling along the beach collecting shells and little beach trinkets to take home as souvenirs and gifts. However, many do not realise that taking a number of these curios out of the country, is in fact illegal.
There is both international and national legislation set in place in Fiji. The Convention of the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) lists those items prohibited internationally. The removal of turtle shells, giant clam shells, and whale’s teeth from a country are banned worldwide. Even though the removal of coral is also prohibited worldwide, with a legal permit, a certain quota of coral may be exported from a country. Under Fiji Government laws, turtle shells and three species of the Triton shell are banned from being exported.
However, with any other type of shell an export permit from the Department of Fisheries allows the buyer to legally remove them and enter their home country with these rare pieces in their possession.
There are various reasons for this legislation:
- Many organisms targeted are now considered rare, locally endangered, and even locally extinct. Two Fiji examples are the Triton Trumpet Shell (Charonia tritonis), which is locally endangered and the Giant Clam (Tridacna gigas), which is locally extinct. Visitors to Fiji add pressure by creating a market in which these shells are the focus, which ultimately leads to overfishing of these species.
- Natural objects easily carry micro organisms or bacteria that can contaminate an ecosystem not accustomed to that specific ‘outside’ agent. Major damage can be caused to an environment by an invading species.
- Shells, crab carapaces, and skeletons of other marine invertebrates all contribute to the process of building our reefs and beaches. These organisms gradually break down, adding limestone to the sandy beach and lagoon areas. It is important to allow natural processes to run their course.
For all the reasons listed above, and more, the carting of these natural objects overseas has been deemed illegal by CITES, the Fiji government, and many other nations worldwide.