Great Shell Count at coast to create marine database


Volunteers are gathering at the Flemish coast tomorrow to take part in a shell count, which will help marine biologists track the effects of all kinds of environmental conditions

Mapping biodiversity

We all have picked up pretty seashells at the coast at some point, but volunteers are invited to the Flemish coast this Saturday, 17 March, to collect and examine shells for the benefit of science. The first Grote Schelpenteldag (Great Shell Count) is happening in 10 coastal towns to map diversity at the coast and help biologists understand the marine environment a bit better.

Every participant is asked to collect about 100 shells and determine, with the help of experts, which species they belong to. The info will be assembled in a database for researchers.

Marine biologists in Flanders focus mainly on rare shell species, and no organisation is currently keeping a record of how many different kinds of shells are washed ashore. Scientists can use this info to learn more about the effects of climate change, pollution and changes in biodiversity.

“There is, for example, an increase in certain species when the sea temperature rises,” Jan Feys of Flanders Marine Institute (Vliz) told Het Nieuwsblad. The dog whelk, he said, practically disappeared 30 years ago because of a substance released by ships that hindered the reproduction of these sea snails. When the substance was banned, the species returned.

By organising annual shell counts, the scientists hope to better monitor such evolutions.

The Grote Schelpenteldag will include separate activities for children. The event is organised by Vliz, science magazine Eos, environmental organisation Natuurpunt and heritage organisation Kunsterfgoed.

There are similar campaigns in Flanders, asking citizens to count butterflies and birds, for example, at other times of the year.