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Thriving seashell trade leaves poor behind

May 18, 2011 10:25pm
(Editor's note: The following piece accompanies the special report Cebu launches crackdown on illegal seashell trade.)

Tourists are flocking to Cebu not only for its beaches but also for its thriving seashell industry, according to a 2003 study by marine biologist Adonis Floren.

“Souvenir shops are scattered all over the island, selling shells and shell by-products," Floren said in his study entitled “The Philippine Shell Industry with Special Focus on Mactan, Cebu." Produced for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the study was supported by the United States Agency for International Development.

Floren noted that many of the export-oriented seashell stalls are found in Barangay Punta Engaño – the site of four of the five raids conducted by the Cebu Provincial Anti-Illegal Fishing Task Force to curb illegal marine activities in the province.

The study found that traders have long exported seashells from Mactan in Cebu to the United States and several countries in Asia and Europe. He said seashells serve as raw material for kitchenware, personal ornaments, and other products.

However, Floren noted that the trade is “overlooked" in the Philippines, citing as proof the “little literature or information about the seashell industry in the Philippines." As a result, indiscriminate practices such as overharvesting threaten the survival of seashell species in the Philippines.

“Many of the shells that are known to have a great value in the international market are obtained from the poor fishing villages in the country," Floren added. Large seashell establishments employ 15 to 45 people while small-scale operations employ less than five persons, usually family members and friends.

Floren noted, “Some of these shells command high prices, yet fisher folks are still living in poverty despite the bounty of their harvest."

In an informal survey of Internet trading sites like eBay, GMA News Online found that current prices of seashells range from P550 to P11,900. The giant clam, a protected species, is sold from as low as P2,770 to as high as P36,240.

“It is likely that increasing pressure on shell resources will be expected in the coming years considering the growing population and widespread poverty in the country," Floren said.

Since 2003, Cebu has consistently topped the list of provinces with the highest share in the total number of poor Filipino families, according to the 2009 Official Poverty Statistics posted on the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) website in February.

Unlike other provinces such as Pangasinan and Negros Oriental that have substantially lowered their poverty incidence since 2006, Cebu has seen a steady increase in its number of poor families, reaching 5.5 percent of the country’s total or 213,162 families by 2009, according to the NSCB. – Suzette Dalumpines and Karlitos Brian Decena, GMA News
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