The collection of shells, particularly for the commercial trade, was identified as a significant threat in early conservation literature (e.g, Starmühlner 1985). Reports on the specimen shell trade in Australia have been produced by Willan (Willan 1986), Davey (1993) and Ponder and Grayson (1998). Willan (1986) estimated that the annual value of the shell trade was $2.5 million in the mid 1980s, but since then the number of specimens exported has doubled (Davey 1993).

 

The specimen shell trade and collectors in general are only concerned with a very small proportion of the molluscan fauna. The great majority of molluscs are small (< 1cm) and of no interest to collectors or the general public. In their analysis of official export records, Ponder and Grayson (1998) reported that in the years 1996-7 only 1682 species were exported, compared to the more than 10,000 species in the Australian fauna. 1036 of these species, belonging to 21 families, made up 83.9% of the total number of specimens exported. Only 27 species had 300 specimens or more exported in 1996-7 and these comprised 28.8% of the total specimens exported. Twenty-two families with more than 500 specimens exported over two years (1996-7) represented 84% of the total specimens exported and 61.8% of the species. By far the most specimens exported were members of the Cypraeidae (20.7%), with the Volutidae (11.2%) and Haliotidae (7.9%), which together with Muricidae, Conidae, Turbinidae and Trochidae, had in excess of 2000 specimens exported over the two years. All of these trends would probably also be reflected in the local usage of specimen shells by Australian collectors.

 

Ponder and Grayson (1998) argued that there is little evidence that collecting for the purposes of obtaining specimen shells has any appreciable impact on the long-term survival of species, except in a few special circumstances. They suggested that the impact of habitat disturbance due to fishing trawling and dredging, and other impacts such as development in coastal areas, pollution etc., are much more significant and may ultimately affect the long-term survival of even some relatively common taxa. They also identified the factors that might lead to over collecting and used these as the basis for criteria to assess the vulnerability status of targeted species. These included restricted distribution, direct development, accessible habitat and high market value. Other relevant criteria that could not be used, due to lack of data, were fecundity and abundance. Overall, the species exported that were identified as being in the top vulnerability categories comprised 7.8% of the total, but the number of specimens exported for these species was 23.7% of the total. Of considerable concern is that of the top 27 species exported (>300 specimens in 2 years), close to half (45.3%) were in the top three categories of vulnerability.



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Department of Environment and Heritage