Sea Shells

On 18 August 2009, A businessman called Ganesh was arrested following a raid by a joint team of police and People For Animals for trading of rare conches. The police seized 10 bags of them.

On 28 August 2009 Seashells worth lakhs were seized during a raid conducted by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) , People For Animals and the Forest Department. These shells are brought from coastal areas and were being sold in Rishikesh and Nainital. Initially, the traders protested violently against the raid saying that they did not know these shells were illegal, but as their lies were exposed they have cleared their shelves.

On 25 September 2009 Conches were seized in a raid conducted in the Lahori Gate area of Delhi by a police team with the help of People For Animals, The conches were brought from the Andamans and were being smuggled.

On 22 November 2009, 400 conches were seized from the Trade Fair at Pragati Maidan by the Delhi Wildlife Department, People For Animals and the Delhi Police. Four people working at the Tamil Nadu and Orissa stalls were arrested in connection to the illegal trade from their states to Delhi. Among those seized were Bull Mouth and Horn Helmet, both listed under Schedule-I which also includes items like ivory and tiger skin. Others were Spider Conch, Limacina Cowrie, Top Shell and Tratizium Conch .

People for Animals has taken this matter seriously. On 28 November 2009 they and the police in Chandigarh seized conches and cowrie shells and two shopkeepers - Surinder Jain and Madan Singh – were arrested under sections 9, 39, 44, 50 and 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act which entails imprisonment for three to seven years with a possible fine of Rs 35,000 being slapped on each.

You need to know the law so that you can inform us about any shops that are selling shells. With the help of Animal Welfare Board of India, People For Animals has made a booklet which you can get if you send me Rs.60. Alternatively you can access and download the details free at

Do not buy conches and shells for your pooja table or as bangles /ornaments. These are living creatures that are essential for the health of the ocean. They are protected under law, and their possession can make you liable for punishment.

Shells are the skeletons of soft bodied animals called Molluscs. Unlike humans, the skeletons of molluscs grow around their bodies to protect them. Imagine if your bones grew outside your skin and organs, attached to them by muscles. Molluscs are filter feeders cleaning the ocean of all its small debris. They are partners in reef building. The small shells contain creatures who keep the beaches clean. When they die their skeletons are needed in the ocean as calcium and limestone.

Sea shells occur all along the coastline of the country, Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshwadweep. As many as 5,042 species of molluscs are found in India.

The shells you see on the beaches are not the ones that are sold in the shops. Professional poachers go out into the ocean and net molluscs. The animals are gouged out by sharp knives or boiled alive. The shells are sold by these poachers to traders. These poor animals, so useful to the waters, are simply used as luxury cosmetic items by humans.

Shells such as Cowries are used as ornaments such as necklaces, bangles, earrings, saree clips, girdles, keychains, jewel boxes, pen holders and buttons. Nancowry and Nautilus shells are used to decorate table lamps, vases, ash trays, paper weights, bags, cushion covers and curtains. Chanks (shankh) are killed for sale to Hindus.

The main trading centres for shells are around the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Bay, the coastal towns of Rameshwaram, Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, Port Blair in Andamans, Puri in Orissa, Gulf of Kutch, Visakhapatnam and Kakinada Bayin Andhra Pradesh. Trade in shells flourishes in areas around pilgrimage centres. Tirespuram near Tuticorin, Keelakari, Rameswaram and Kanyakumari are some of the areas where trade in Indian sea shells occurs on a large scale. Whether it is in the form of small scale shop owners, platform sellers or large gift shops, trade in sea shells is rampant across India.

Kolkata is one of the main centres where shell products from bangles to ducks are made. The main outlet for most of the shell exports is Mumbai. Some of the Indian sea shells most widely exported illegally are: Chicoreus remosus, Turbinella pyrum, and Cassis sp.

Endangered species include : Turban Shell or Green Snail (Turbo marmoratus linnaeus), Indian Sacred chank (Turbinella pyrum fusus) , Giant clam shells (Tridacna maxima, Tridacna squamosa, Tridacna crocea) , Horse's Hoof Clam (Hippopus hippopus), Pearl oyster (Pinctada margaritifera), All species of Cowries, Scorpion sea shells.

As per the provisions of the India Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the definition of “wild life” is “any animal, aquatic or land vegetation which forms part of any habitat” and includes bees, butterflies, crustacean, fish and moths; and aquatic or land vegetation. These are 'Government Property' and are thus protected from being harmed or exploited. The Export & Import Policy prohibits the export of “All wild animals, animal articles including their products and derivatives…”. Only those for which ownership certificates have been granted for education, scientific research and management under Wild Life Act, are excluded.

The best way to block trade in shells is to block the buyers. Create awareness in your area, college or market. If you find shells on display in someone's house, treat it with the same seriousness as finding a tiger-skin. All shops must be warned and the police informed. Approach tourist shops, religious centres, hotels, to discourage them from buying or displaying shells. If you live near a beach area have the man who sells shells from a sheet spread on the sand, arrested. Look at sites on the Net and inform us which websites are selling them. Inform the website that this is illegal.

Report violations to the local forest officer or senior policeman. If you don’t trust them, send me the details at People for Animals, 14, Ashoka Road, New Delhi-110001 Phone: 011-23719293, 23357088, or to The Director, TRAFFIC, WWF-India , 172-B, Lodi Estate, New Delhi-110003,  Phone: 011- 24698578.

Start looking. It took us 3 years to more or less pack up the mongoose hairbrush trade by constant raids. Let us see how long we take to stop this trade.


Maneka Sanjay Gandhi


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*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*