Shells as Heritage History Around
the Southern Tip of Africa
We have all
seen the splendidly decorative shells in
cabinets. Some are chosen for
size, some for form –
spiney, twisted, knobbly, ridged,
ribbed – and some for colour
Many of these
shells are found in equatorial zones.
Molluscs (the live
animal and its shell) grow bigger
and more colourful in warmer waters.
Here, at the
southern tip of Africa, molluscs have to adapt
warm and cold currents, frequent wild and
rocky coasts sparsely covered with
red or green algae
compared to warmer oceans.
The West Coast has far fewer
varieties in a
family and sometimes none exist.
this are the Turban shells (Turbanidae)
and the Nerites (Neritidae).
Giant turban or Alikreukel (a gastropod
animal) is found from Cape Point to
Port Elizabeth. It
has been harvested by coast
dwellers from the earliest of
(discarded shell heaps) show us layers of
shells people harvested. Sadly even this abundant
over-harvested. Five per person per
day is the rule and sacks of
shells can be found
dumped after a weekend.
or Abalone ( Haliotis midae) is also a
limpet and gastropod which
fetches huge prices as
an afrodisiac delicacy. It grows to
after 13 years. Harvesting was banned in 2008.
Oceans, G. Branch, M.Branch, C. Griffiths,
Today - 2021 –
the really large shells are scarce.
There are Abalone farms
filling the commercial
and replacement needs. “If you take
replace you destroy” – Y. Hope.
shells have been donated to the
Shell & Sea Life Museum
and some by
beachcombers who were active for 57
have an Abalone shell measuring 170mm
across. Midden shells
give a good idea of size in
past eras and comparisons
with shells gathered
today show how large a mollusc can
grow if left alone.
coast has a huge diversity of molluscs,
not the most exotic or
decorative, but hardy and well
adapted. The limpet family
occur all around our coast
and more than 50% of those can be
The limpets exposed in inter-tidal zones are
in black algae for disguise on the dark rocks.
are also territorial and live within their
gardens of algae.
nineteen years of beachcombing and
cleaning-up around the
Southern Coast I have
verified that the donated shells are
I do not buy exotic shells as most are taken live.
People have given me beautiful collections they can
accommodate or take with them.
I display those as well as marine
cases (sharks), shell egg cases (Nautilus)
mollusc egg cases. (Yes, all shells grow from eggs
larvae). I also display ‘constructions’ of that
other sea-life – plastic.
So keep that
shell your grandparents valued so
much. Give it to a collector
or sell it. I find it
impossible to trash a shell – take it to an
where it becomes sand for you.
collection of books on shells is
the TWO OCEANS A guide
to the marine
life of southern Africa by G.Branch,
C.Griffiths, L. Beckley – an invaluable